Image: Wikimedia Commons / Joe D
Image: Wikimedia Commons / Joe D

Sexual assault claims ‘mishandled’ by universities

Women from 15 universities have signed a letter calling for a mandatory policy for dealing with sexual assault allegations in higher education.

TW: Sexual assault

Currently, it is not compulsory for higher education institutions to implement a specific policy to deal with sexual assault claims.

Samantha Kilford, 23, studying at the University of the West of England (UWE), recently claimed that her allegations of sexual assault were mishandled by her university.

Kilford’s investigation ‘took over a year’, and she believes was kept ‘secretive’, which she has claimed made her feel as though UWE were waiting for her to ‘give up’.

Kilford believes she was kept in the dark, not knowing “what the result of the investigation was. They told me I wasn’t allowed to know”.

Anna Bull, co-director of the 1752 Group, (a UK-based organisation that lobbies to end sexual misconduct in higher education), said some universities withheld details of the outcome of sexual harassment investigations out of erroneous fears that doing so might breach data protection legislation.

“[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. Many complainants make a formal report to protect other students,” Bull said.

“It destroys trust in the institution and the process.”

After being sexually assaulted in her final year at the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama, Sydney Feder, 23, initiated the letter.

She said the college’s investigation was ‘negligent’ and made her feel ‘worthless’. She said she was ‘totally left out of the process’, and was never told of the outcome of the investigation.

Hannah, a student at the University of Leicester, also signed the letter after she said her allegation of rape was not dealt with by the university.

“I felt like the university didn’t care, she expressed. “I felt like they wanted to shut up this case with minimal cost and fuss”.

“He was worth £36,000 to them. It felt like the money was worth more to them than doing what was right.”

 

If you touch that financial pocket it will break. We have to break the system. Someone has to intervene. That’s why I’ve signed the letter.

– Hannah, Student at the University of Leicester

The University of Leicester responded, claiming that they were ‘fully committed to well-being and safety of students and staff’ and ‘cannot comment on individual cases, however every disclosure is taken extremely seriously and investigated fully’.

Hannah also said, “If you touch that financial pocket it will break. We have to break the system. Someone has to intervene. That’s why I’ve signed the letter.”

The letter is also signed by 13 charities and campaign groups, including the 1752 group, which campaigns to end staff sexual misconduct in higher education.

The signatories list a number of suggestions in the letter for the governments to consider, including:

  • Each university to have a specially trained member of staff to deal with sexual assaults
  • Survivor testimonies during hearings to be completed without the alleged perpetrator present and the person accused should not be allowed to communicate with the survivor
  • The results of an investigation must be provided to everyone involved. Some universities do not tell the accuser of the outcome of their complaint – viewing it as a matter between the institution and the accused
  • Universities can no longer drag out investigations. A decision must be reached within three months of a report filed.

A recent study by John Edmonds and Eva Tutchell, authors of Unsafe Spaces, found there are a minimum of 50,000 sexual assaults at universities every year.

Through Freedom of Information requests from 102 universities in England and Wales, the same study said that nine had satisfactory safeguarding policies for dealing with sexual assault. A third, 32, were considered by the authors as ‘very poor’.

Feder also started an online petition after a series of anonymous survivor accounts began to appear on Instagram from different universities through the pandemic. She said a “baseline safeguarding policy written by the government” is needed.

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