Sexual assault victims failed by Uni complaints system

Less than 20% of all sexual assault allegations have resulted in serious consequences over the past four years at Newcastle University.

multiple writers
24th February 2022
Newcastle University

Less than 20% of all sexual assault allegations have resulted in serious consequences over the past four years at Newcastle University.

Findings obtained by The Courier detail that only 22 people have reported incidents of sexual assault to Newcastle University over four years, from 2017 to 2021. Furthermore, less than 5 people were permanently excluded as a result of sexual misconduct - a specific number cannot be given as ‘this would create a risk of some individuals being identifiable’.

The data was released after Freedom of Information requests were submitted in an attempt to discover how the University deals with such allegations. What has been found is a “worryingly” low number of sexual harassment allegations that were officially reported to the University over the four years. This has led to questions being asked about the effectiveness of the University’s complaints system.

As well as data The Courier uncovered, data from a recent survey conducted by Newcastle’s ‘It Happens Here’ society revealed that of 41 participants, just 18% have reported incidents of sexual violence to the institution’s wellbeing service.

The multi-award-winning society supports and campaigns for survivors of sexual violence, holding the University and wider society accountable to which their website states they ‘provide the support that the University fails to provide for survivors’.

Either something isn’t quite right adding up, or the uni has completely failed to register these reports

The president of Newcastle’s It Happens Here society, Madeline, said “it is absolutely abysmal because our survey shows that whilst still a low number, more people have reported sexual violence.” Going on to add “Either something isn’t quite right adding up, or the uni has completely failed to register these reports, and these systematic failures may be much larger than we realise”.

This survey from It Happens Here and The Courier’s investigation follows another blow to the University. Facing backlash as a result of data gathering as part of a survey conducted by the society’s ‘DoBetterNCLUni’ campaign.

Part of their campaign saw a whiteboard with a tally chart placed on campus last month enabling students to fill out whether they personally or someone they know had experienced sexual violence during their period of study. This was followed by a question as to whether they had reported it to Newcastle University or police. The aim of this campaign is to improve the institution's policies and procedures around sexual violence.

However, this is not the first time that doubts over the University’s complaints system have been raised. In 2021, the national group ‘Our Streets Now’, which advocates for an end to Public Sexual Harassment in the UK, discovered that 77% of Newcastle students were unsure or unaware of how to report sexual assault or harassment to the University.

77% of Newcastle students were unsure or unaware of how to report sexual assault or harassment to the University

In 2019 the University came under pressure to change its policy after a student who was convicted of stalking his ex-girlfriend, Jefferson Young, was allowed to return to campus, and enrol on a postgraduate course.

Even for people who do know where to report complaints, it is still not as easy as it could be. One student who chose to remain anonymous disclosed to The Courier that she refused to report an incident of sexual assault given identity fears as she said, “I thought if I reported him, I’d get hate from his friends”.

These figures and personal accounts make the words of Madeline even more relevant. It is clear that there is some level of institutional failure when people feel they can not report to the University for whatever reason, and even if they do, they may not be handled in the correct manner.

"It’s degrading for those seeking justice”

A Newcastle University student, who chose to remain anonymous, said “It’s incredibly disappointing to see results like these highlighting failings within the University. Why would people report incidences of sexual violence when less than 20% result in serious consequences? It’s degrading for those seeking justice.”

This investigation comes after many universities faced backlash over their use of Non-Disclosure Agreements (NDAs) as part of their response to dealing with claims of sexual misconduct allegations. This is a practice that Newcastle University’s Vice Chancellor, Chris Day, has denied was ever employed at the University.

The practice had been used to silence the complaints of victims of sexual harassment and abuse, effectively placing a gagging order over them. Day was a signatory on a recent government-backed pledge to end their use nationally.

It is hoped that the University will take seriously the findings of the ‘It Happens Here’ survey which is still ongoing, and commit to improving the process by which they deal with sexual assault allegations.

Newcastle University was approached for comment but did not respond.

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