London: For the first time, the victims of sexual assault at Cambridge University can report their cases directly to officials at one of the world's oldest educational institutions, which was criticised earlier for its failure to protect its students from sexual violence.
Previously, in line with other UK universities, Cambridge followed the guidelines laid out in the 1994 Zellick Report, which advised universities against investigating "serious" offenses and proposed that disciplinary action should only be taken following relevant action by the police and courts.
The new policy will allow victims to formally report allegations of sexual violence to the university directly for the first time.
"This means more security to individual victims of sexual assault and sexual violence. There is definite merit to using the criminal justice system, however in the minority of cases that are not dropped due to a lack of evidence by police, it takes on average two years to be completed," said Brooke Longhurst, a graduate student and founder of the 'We Support Women In Sport' project at Cambridge University.
Charlotte Chorley, the women's officer at Cambridge, told 'The Guardian' the latest move by the central university was an "important first step" in ensuring sexual harassment policies were in place across all colleges within the varsity.
"The Women's Campaign have a key priority this year to get policies in all colleges, and it is a good step that the university is taking this into consideration even if it has taken far too long," she said.
A survey by the newspaper in May found fewer than half of Russell Group universities, which makes up all leading UK universities, monitor the extent of sexual violence against students.
Last year, a survey by Cambridge University Students' Union reported 77 percent of respondents had experienced sexual harassment, 30 percent had experienced sexual assault and that the majority of such assaults went unreported.
A university spokesperson said: "We regularly review our policies to ensure they are in keeping with our aim to offer students the best possible support.
"As a result, the university has revised its disciplinary code of conduct so that it encompasses harassment, including sexual assault. We worked closely with student representatives to produce a new set of guidelines and to signpost the support that already exists across the university and the colleges.
"In addition, the university sports committee has agreed to develop codes of conduct to support gender equality and ensure exemplary standards of behaviour."