Image: Warwick Media Library, The Boar

Group chat men eligible to return this year not coming back, unaware victims “left in fear” by Warwick

Victims of the Warwick group chat scandal were not told by the University that the men who had received one-year bans, only eligible to return at the start of this academic cycle, would not resume study on campus this year.

One of the victims told The Boar that knowledge of the men’s eligibility to return had left her feeling “incredibly anxious”, and that she ought to have been told they would not be on campus.

The University has confirmed, however, that the men are still students at Warwick. It gave no further details than that they would not be returning to campus, and that they had fulfilled the “necessary requirements” in understanding Warwick’s values to be “entitled” to continue their studies.

It confirmed that it had not informed the female victims in this respect but said that it had been in contact with those who were directly involved in the case, most recently in July 2019, prior to the publication of Dr Persaud’s independent review.

In the same month, Vice-chancellor Stuart Croft told the BBC that he blamed himself for not personally reaching out sooner to the victims and said that he had “not communicated enough”, but the University has not reached out to the women since.

Warwick’s correspondence with the victims up to July included “updates on progress related to the implementation of [their] Action Plan” and “consistently point[ing] to the support available to them from our Wellbeing Support Services team”.

However, “it did not reference whether the respondents involved, and who were eligible, would be returning to campus.”

The University has confirmed, however, that the men are still students at Warwick

The University continued: “Following Dr Persaud’s recommendations, we are taking steps to improve our processes, including the appointment of Student Liaison Officers to act as a single point of contact when communicating with those involved in serious misconduct cases.

“However, we are aware that this is a long-term process and by continuing to work with our students, staff and wider Warwick community we are determined to fully implement our action plan and will report back on our progress.”

The chat, originally discovered in May 2018, contained a plethora of conversations about sexually assaulting other students, as well as racist, anti-Semitic, misogynistic and ableist language.

After the disciplinary hearing in June 2018, one man was banned for life, two for ten years, and two for one year. The men originally banned for 10 years had their punishments reduced to one year, but The Boar confirmed in February that they had withdrawn from Warwick.

However, the University stated: “Students who received minor disciplinary sanctions for their involvement but not issued with an extended suspension or ban have returned to campus, and this decision has been made in line with our disciplinary process.”

“We are satisfied that they have met the necessary requirements ahead of returning and have shown that they understand and respect the values and behaviours expected in our community,” it told The Boar.

I have been incredibly anxious about returning to campus – at one point last year I almost transferred universities

– Nicole

Among the victims is final-year student Nicole, who publicly declared her fear on the BBC’s documentary, The Warwick Uni Rape Chat Scandal, in May 2019.

Nicole told The Boar she was “shocked” that Warwick did not inform her of the men’s absence from campus this year, even after she was mentioned in the original complaint to the University and wrote a statement about the case alongside fellow victims.

“Naturally, I expected to hear from the University about the student status of the group chat men at the start of this year upon returning from my year abroad,” Nicole said.

“I have been incredibly anxious about returning to campus – at one point last year I almost transferred universities – and you would think that the University might want to reassure me that [the men] would not be there if they knew that that was the case.

“Throughout this entire ordeal the University has known my name, seen mine and my friend’s faces in the press, but we received no word from anyone in the administration or even a check-up on how we’re doing. After featuring in the BBC’s documentary, I had tutors who I hadn’t spoken to in years reaching out to offer their support and apologise for what I had been through; and yet there was absolute radio silence from the University.

“Their complete lack of regard really has failed me and the other women. I only ever saw the university’s official apologies through friends’ social media and the press – never once have I been reached out to personally by anyone higher up in the university, nor have I had any personal apology.”

The University continued its statement regarding communication by stating that Warwick remains committed to ensuring the wellbeing of “the entire community”.

“[We] have already taken action following (the) group chat, including increased capacity in our student wellbeing and support services which are available to all new and returning students, as well as the publication of a new sexual violence and misconduct policy, and a new online Report and Support tool,” they said.

We have already taken action following the group chat, including increased capacity in our student wellbeing and support services

– University of Warwick

“We maintain that sexual misconduct or harassment of any kind is completely unacceptable and encourage open dialogue and discussion about how we can ensure Warwick is a supportive and inclusive environment.”

Warwick’s Students’ Union (SU) President Ben Newsham told The Boar that communication with victims of the group chat “must be one of the university’s top priorities” and that this lack of communication is “particularly disappointing in the context of how much work has been done to implement the recommendations of Dr. Persaud’s review”.

He continued: “The University has launched a new Report and Support Tool, published a new sexual violence policy and made improvements to Wellbeing services, all following lobbying from the SU – but for these changes to make a difference, students must feel they can trust the university. Building that trust starts with communication, with the victims of the group chat and with the university community as a whole.”

The University has been heavily criticised for its lack of communication with the victims of the group chat case after it was revealed in February 2019 that the original complainants were not made aware that the men who had their sentences reduced had withdrawn prior to the University’s public announcement.

Vice-chancellor Stuart Croft told the BBC that he blamed himself for not personally reaching out sooner to the victims… but the University has not reached out to them since

In an interview with the BBC in July, Professor Croft said: “We are genuinely sorry. We have got this wrong. We have not supported them enough. We have not communicated enough.”

He also apologised for not speaking to the victims directly, stating: “I should have been quicker. I should have reached out. I should have engaged.”

This apology came after the University declared on 6 February that they would be holding an “external independent disciplinary review” in order to assess how Warwick’s disciplinary and complaints systems could be improved and reflect upon their mistakes in the group chat case.

After external reviewer Dr Sharon Persaud submitted her report, the University announced a new “five-point action plan” in July, committing to greater transparency, better victim communication and quarterly public updates on the implementation of the plan.

In their initial press release on the outcome of the review, where the University also “apologise[d] for failings” in its handling of the group chat case, they said they “will report publicly on its progress every quarter, beginning in September 2019”.

The University is yet to release its first quarterly update.

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