Some universities left victims of sexual assault and harassment in the dark regarding investigations, said campaigners.
TW: Sexual harassment
Leading students and staff felt that their complaints were “a waste of time”, they added.
The campaigners also said that the government should hold universities legally responsible to complete sexual misconduct investigations – even in the event of staff leaving the university prior to the conclusion of investigations.
Further requirements included writing to new employers regarding ongoing or concluded investigations to prevent staff from moving institutions to evade sanctions.
Anna Bull, a co-director of the 1752 Group which is dedicated to ending sexual misconduct in higher education, said some universities withheld details of the outcome of sexual harassment investigations out of misguided fear that doing so might breach data protection legislation.
“It destroys trust in the institution and the process.” Bull said.
“Complainants don’t get told the member of staff has been dismissed, here’s what action we’re taking to keep you and other students safe. So they feel like the entire process was a waste of time and a slap in the face.” Bull added.
According to lawyers from McAllister Olivarius, a university would be in breach of their responsibilities under the Equality and Human Rights Acts if they informed perpetrators of the outcomes of investigations but withheld them from complainants.
Complainants don’t get told the member of staff has been dismissed
– Anna Bull
A spokesperson for the Information Commissioner’s Office said: “Our advice is that data protection is not a barrier to sharing information when it is appropriate to do so and it is necessary and proportionate to the purpose. Universities should be transparent about the complaints process and only share the personal data it needs to.”
The Office for Students, a universities regulator, published guidance on how to handle future sexual misconduct investigations in higher education. It included the recommendation that universities provide students and staff with the outcome of investigations. They noted that failure to do so would result in sanctions.
The guidance followed the publication of thousands of disclosures shedding light on the scale of sexual misconduct at universities via the campaign website Everyone’s Invited. This prompted fears that despite years of campaigning, rape culture on UK campuses remained largely unaddressed.
For anyone who has been affected by the issues raised in this article, there are lots of places you can turn to for help and support. Warwick Wellbeing Support Services are available through the Wellbeing Portal, online, or over the phone. NHS Coventry and Warwickshire Partnership Trust are offering online or over the phone urgent support for anyone suffering from mental health issues. More information can be found on their website. Charities such as MIND also have information, guidance and support available online.