Revealed: The scale of sexual harassment and assault at the UK's universities

Video report by ITV News Correspondent Rachel Younger

Katie is a third year student and a talented sportswoman. She expected university to give her freedom and the opportunity to excel at the sport she loves.

Instead, she relied on anti-depressants to get through each day. Every night, she set her alarm an hour early, knowing it would take that time in the morning to work up the courage to leave her house.

Katie is not her real name and an ongoing investigation means we cannot identify the university she attends.

But she is one of thousands of students whose accounts of sexual harassment and assault reveal a shocking culture of sexual violence at UK universities.

Katie’s ordeal began in her first year when she was sexually assaulted. When she shared what was happening with a university counsellor, she was told it was probably little more than “a lovers’ tiff”.

Katie says it took two years for her university to take action against the student who repeatedly abused her.

“It's taken away almost my whole university experience,” Katie told me. “I’ve spent my three years at uni always looking over my shoulder and I never felt safe.

"It's taken its toll on my work, my social life and my mental health, having to be dependent on medication that I never was before, just because I couldn’t get the support that I needed.“

An anonymous university student who was sexually assaulted says her ordeal has taken a toll on her work, social life and mental health

It has been a month since testimonies from thousands of girls and young women exposed an epidemic of sexual violence and abuse in too many schools.

But the shocking scale of the problem stretches well beyond the school gates.

Exclusive data shared with ITV News by the campaign group Everyone’s Invited reveals that in a single week, more than 1,000 students have sent the group their anonymous testimonies of sexual assault, violence, and harassment.

A university student who was sexually assaulted says her ordeal has taken a toll on her work, social life and mental health.

Today, Everyone's Invited names 86 universities, including leading institutions like Exeter, Oxford and Edinburgh, with students' testimonies still flooding in.

ITV News contacted the three institutions named above - all of them told us student welfare was a priority and they remain determined to tackle violence against women and misogyny.

But Soma Sara, who founded Everyone’s Invited to expose the scale of sexual violence in the UK, says what is being reported from within universities is not happening in a vacuum.

“It's about a rape culture,” she tells me.

“It’s a culture that has the effect of normalising and trivialising sexual violence … the sexism, the misogyny, the victim blaming. That sexism that exists at the fabric of our society is very much happening and prevalent at universities across the UK.”

ITV News met a group of four young women all studying at universities in London. The sexual harassment they experience is shocking, because it is so regularly experienced and because it so deeply shapes their decisions.

Neharika Dembla was 19 when she was first groped at university.

“I was walking through the crowd and I just found someone put his hand on my body,” she recalls.

“I was shocked. I just didn't know what to do, whether to scream or shout. I was just completely paralysed and I tried to get away, but he just kept trying to pull me towards him and his friends.”

Neharika said she felt scared when she was groped by an attacker who tried to pull her towards him in a crowd

Neharika’s experience has stuck. She spends money she can’t afford on taxis rather than walking home after dark and repeatedly texts her younger sister, now also a student, to check she is safe.

But fellow student Maria Khan knows daylight is no guarantee of safety after being followed repeatedly from her train back from college.

“It's midday and I'm trying to get home safely and you know, there's this random man, like holding onto me being like: 'Let me just talk to you. Why are you being so mean?'

"I was 19 but I thought maybe if I tell him I'm younger than that, he will like leave me alone, but you'll tell them like: 'Oh, sorry, I'm 17.' And they're like: 'That's okay. I'll wait.'”

Maria now tries to avoid college activities that would mean travelling home late at night.

Student Maria Khan recalls being harassed by a man who followed her from a train

But there is little escape when it is your own peers who are responsible. Malinda Davies says the heavy drinking culture among some student groups can encourage abuse.

“I'm involved in a lot of sports societies and I know a lot of men who have spreadsheets of girls they slept with,” she explains. And sometimes they've rated them as well.

"And instead of discouraging them, other male students are encouraging them, telling them it’s cool. That’s not okay. They should be set straight."

Malinda Davies says she knows male students who keep spreadsheets of women they have slept with

But in these womens’ experience, too often the authorities seem reluctant to intervene. Meggie Ambrose-Dempster was assaulted by a man as she walked back to her halls.

“He was on a bike and he slapped my bum really hard. I was less than 100 metres from the door and I was so shocked. I told the security guard and literally just got a shrug and: 'Oh well, keep your eye out.'”

Meggie Ambrose-Dempster says she was shrugged off when she told a university halls security guard she was sexually assaulted

All four women are furious that the harassment they have experienced has changed their behaviour and limited their freedom. They are part of the Our Streets Now movement, which campaigns for the right of women and girls to feel safe in public spaces.

Not a single one of them is even slightly surprised by the thousands of students who are now sharing their similar experiences.

But for Everyone’s Invited founder Soma Sara, there is some encouragement in the conversation around sexual violence reigniting in recent weeks. Rather than blaming the institutions involved or criminalising young men, she just wants that conversation to widen.

Everyone’s Invited founder Soma Sara encourages everyone to challenge sexist behaviour in real time

“We’d really like to encourage all students to be an active bystander” she says.

“If you see something happening, if you see sexism, misogyny, if you see someone being mistreated, we'd like to encourage people to stand up for that person to challenge this behaviour in real time.

"It doesn't have to be with anger, it can be with empathy and understanding and explaining to students and young people why these behaviours are destructive.”

A total of 1,035 testimonies were sent to Everyone's Invited in the space of just one week. Of those, 86 UK universities were named. Any university without a number had five or less submissions:

University of Exeter - 65 University of Oxford - 57 University of Edinburgh - 53 University of Leeds - 53 UCL - 48 Durham University - 41 University of York - 40 University of Manchester - 38 Bristol University - 37 University of Cambridge - 36 Nottingham Trent - 32 Nottingham University - 30 Portsmouth University - 30 Kings College London - 28 London School of Economics - 26 Imperial - 25 Queens University Belfast - 15 Aberdeen University Arts University Bournemouth Aston University Bangor University Birkbeck, University of London Birmingham City University Brighton University Chester University Chichester University City University London Coventry University De Montfort University Falmouth University Glasgow Caldeonian University Glasgow University Goldsmith’s College London Greenwich University Harper Adams University Heriot-Watt University Holloway University (RHUL) Huddersfield University Keele University Kingston University Lancaster University Leeds Beckett University Liverpool John Moores University Liverpool University Loughborough University London South Bank University Manchester Metropolitan University Middlesex University Newcastle University Northumbria University Norwich University of Arts Oxford Brookes Plymouth University Queen Mary University Ravensbourne University Reading University Sheffield Hallam Sheffield University SOAS University London Solent Southampton University St. George's, University of London Staffordshire University Stirling University Surrey University Sussex University Swansea University Teesside University University of Bath University of Bournemouth University of Derby University of East Anglia University of Gloucestershire University of Hull University of Kent University of Newcastle University of Southampton University of St Andrews University of Strathclyde University of Suffolk University of Sunderland University of the West of England University of Wales University of Wolverhampton University of Lincoln University of the Arts London Warwick University