TW: Sexual assault, suicide
A former student at the University of De Montfort in Leicester has said that she ‘felt silenced’ by her university after she was allegedly groped by a professor at a Christmas party in 2018.
She had reported the incident to the university after it happened, but was unhappy with their response and felt they were trying to downplay the seriousness of the incident. The assault, coupled with her institution’s inadequate response, had caused her to attempt suicide.
The alumna, who graduated in 2020, told the BBC that she was groped when she had been at a bar with the professor and others in 2018. She claims he grabbed her, threw himself on her, and tried to kiss her.
She said she immediately left the party and reported this the next day to the university. She had expected the university to fire the professor. When this did not happen, she requested his office be moved, as it was in the same building she had classes in. The university refused.
“They tried to manipulate me, to make it seem less big than it was,” she claimed. “They made me feel silenced. Their response was just a complete failure.”
She says that by December 2019, her mental health had been so severely affected by the alleged assault and the university’s disappointing response that she tried to take her own life.
Our primary concern here is to understand and to listen to our former student’s testimony in greater detail […] and where necessary, learn from a genuine dialogue
– University of De Montfort Spokesperson
A university spokesman stated they had taken “appropriate action”. Further information regarding the action taken against the professor or the result of the university’s investigation was not given due to “data protection laws”.
The university also said: “Our primary concern here is to understand and to listen to our former student’s testimony in greater detail […] and where necessary, learn from a genuine dialogue.
“We take any complaint of harassment extremely seriously and always thoroughly investigate. Where appropriate, we do take disciplinary action, based on the evidence presented.”
The professor continues to teach at De Montfort.
UK universities have come under fire for attempting to silence students who have been victims of sexual assault.
Based on Freedom of Information (FOI) requests sent to 136 universities, it was discovered that nearly a third had used non-disclosure agreements (NDAs) to resolve student complaints including sexual assault and bullying over the past four years, paying out a total of £1.3 million.
Students said they felt pressured to sign NDAs and one student was threatened with expulsion if she broke her contract. About 300 students have signed NDAs following complaints since 2016.
The student complaints regulator, the Office of the Independent Adjudicator, said the use of NDAs was “not appropriate” and advised against the practice.
It receives more than 1,500 complaints a year and said it was important that grievances were “handled fairly and transparently” so universities could learn from them.