Campaign group calls for action on sexual harassment reporting

The 1752 Group publishes open letter to sector in wake of Al Jazeera investigation into complaints handling at UK universities

The research, consultancy and campaign organisation the 1752 Group has published an open letter to the higher education sector urging a review of guidance around group complaints of sexual harassment in higher education.

The UK-based group – which is “dedicated to ending staff sexual misconduct in higher education” – wrote to the Office of the Independent Adjudicator for Higher Education, ACAS (Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service), Universities HR, AMOSSHE (The Student Services Organisation), the Office for Students, Universities UK and the Equality and Human Rights Commission, copying in the ministers for higher education in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

The letter refers to Al Jazeera’s Degrees of Abuse investigation, which revealed failures by top universities when responding to student and staff sexual harassment complaints.

The 1752 group points out that “In current practice and guidance, where several people report the same student or staff member, their reports tend to be dealt with separately. This means that the responding party’s pattern of behaviour is difficult to spot” and calls upon sector bodies to work together to “devise shared guidance for HEIs in handling cases where there are multiple complainants”.

We acknowledge that complaints in this area are very challenging for HEIs to handle, especially in cases that also involve police reports, and we know that many dedicated professionals within HEIs are also struggling with the existing lack of clear guidance in this area. But we are all working towards the same goal – Open letter from The 1752 Group

Among the letter’s 183 signatories from across the sector is Mia Liyanage, the University of Oxford graduate who featured in the Al Jazeera investigation.

The group says it would be “delighted to contribute to an urgent working group to address this gap.”

 

The 1752 Group letter in full

Re: New guidance needed for group/multiple complaints of sexual harassment in HE

Many students, academics, and members of the public – including ourselves – have been alarmed and distressed by the findings of the Degrees of Abuse series from Al Jazeera’s Investigative Unit. Outlining failures by Universities of Glasgow and Oxford to adequately respond to student and staff reports of sexual harassment from academic staff and from students, the series includes harrowing testimony of the experiences of those who have tried to speak out or make a formal complaint. 

The series supports The 1752 Group’s findings from their research that there are various aspects of complaints handling in HE that urgently need to be improved. This issue is not limited to a handful of institutions; these testimonies could have come out of any university in the UK and as such they highlight a sector-wide issue. The 1752 Group have outlined some ways forward in their Sector Guidance, co-authored with law firm McAllister Olivarius, as well as in their good practice briefing notes (see also here). In particular, these publications describe how higher education institutions (HEIs) need to do much more to build trust with students and staff so that they feel safe to come forward, and then to keep them safe if they do so. However, as well as these steps, there remains further work to be done.

One of the most urgent issues that the Degrees of Abuse series highlights is HEIs’ difficulties in handling multiple reports about the same student or staff member. In current practice and guidance, where several people report the same student or staff member, their reports tend to be dealt with separately. This means that the responding party’s pattern of behaviour is difficult to spot. As outlined in Degrees of Abuse, and in The 1752 Group’s report Silencing Students, when students or staff are subjected to sexual misconduct from academic staff, there are often others who have been targeted by the same staff member. Research looking at student-student sexual misconduct has found that the same issue arises.

We, the undersigned, therefore urge AMOSSHE, the OIA, ACAS, and Universities HR to work together to devise shared guidance for HEIs in handling cases where there are multiple complainants. This should cover cases where there are two or more individual reports against the same person, or where several students and/or staff report as a group. Such guidance should relate to all reports under the Equality Act (2010) and would set out the circumstances and procedures for multiple complaints of sexual harassment, or harassment based on protected characteristics including race, sex, or disability, to be heard collectively. 

Existing guidance is insufficient to support professional services staff in HEIs to adequately do this. Both the OIA and ACAS’ guidance assumes complaints or reports are made by an individual student or member of staff but as Al Jazeera’s and The 1752 Group’s findings demonstrate, this is often not the case. While the OIA’s guidance on large group complaints from April 2021 is aimed at large groups of students affected by strikes or other large-scale events, this is not appropriate for sexual harassment. 

We propose that such guidance should be applicable for both student and staff complainants and respondents. We acknowledge that there exist significant differences in existing frameworks for handling reports from or against students or staff members. However, there is a need for more joined-up thinking across HR and student services in order to address the types of cases reported in Degrees of Abuse, where both staff and students were targeted by the same person. 

We acknowledge that complaints in this area are very challenging for HEIs to handle, especially in cases that also involve police reports, and we know that many dedicated professionals within HEIs are also struggling with the existing lack of clear guidance in this area. But we are all working towards the same goal. That goal is to create a higher education sector where the kinds of devastating accounts that were heard in Degrees of Abuse can no longer occur. 

The 1752 Group and our colleagues and collaborators will be delighted to contribute to an urgent working group to address this gap. We look forward to hearing back from you with your view on how this guidance can best be achieved and within what timeframes.

Yours faithfully

Dr Anna Bull, Co-director, The 1752 Group; University of York

Dr Adrija Dey, The 1752 Group; University of Sussex

Georgina Calvert-Lee, McAllister Olivarius

Sara Ahmed, Independent Scholar

Dr Helen Mott, consultant in policy and practice for prevention of sexual violence and harassment

Dr Rebecca Harrison, Open University

Fiona Drouet, EmilyTest

Gemma McCall, Culture Shift

Kim Harrison, Slater and Gordon

Not On My Campus UK

Professor Nicole Westmarland, Durham University 

Mia Liyanage, University of Oxford alum, former complainant and participant in the Degrees of Abuse Al Jazeera investigation

Dr Esther Hitchen, The University of Manchester

Dr Emma Cardwell, Nottingham Trent University

Anonymous academic, currently involved in a lengthy complaints process.

Katie Tobin, Durham University, former Sussex student, victim in 2021 public inquiry 

Professor Jane Henderson, Cardiff University

Dr Erin Shannon, The 1752 Group, University of York

Dr. Mara Keire, University of Oxford

Dr Megan Donald

Alice Fogg, University of Manchester

Melanie Williams, University of Anglia

Allison Smith, former Sussex University student, victim in 2017 Sussex university public inquiry 

Professor Deborah Cameron, University of Oxford

Professor Amy Bryzgel, University of Aberdeen 

Jasmin Bath, University of Cambridge

Sydney Feder, The Student Survivors Coalition for Safeguarding Policies

Dr Sarah M Hughes  Northumbria University

Aline Courtois, University of Bath

Professor Karen Boyle, University of Strathclyde

Dr Charlotte Boyce, University of Portsmouth

Erin Ross, EmilyTest

Dr Phoenix Andrews

Dr Alex Pavey, University of Surrey

Dr Sazana Jayadeva, University of Cambridge

Helen Coleman, Glyndwr University

Dr Stephen Burrell, Durham University 

Dr Laurence Totelin, Cardiff University

Dr. Alex Baker, Sheffield University

Dr. Jeffrey Whyte, University of Manchester

Prof. Ruth Holliday, University of Leeds

Prof. Vanessa Diaz, University College London

Sally Pentecost MLitt, University of St Andrews

Dr Philip Garnett, University of York

Professor Christopher Jackson, University of Manchester

Dr Charlotte Lydia Riley, University of Southampton

Dr Kim Allen, University of Leeds

Dr Mwenza Blell, Newcastle University

Dr Fran Amery, University of Bath

Dr Sam Strong, University of Cambridge

Dr Ruth Pearce, University of Glasgow

Dr Stevie Marsden, Edinburgh Napier University

Conner Milliken, University of Glasgow

Dr Andrea Gibbons, University of Salford

Dr Zoe Baker, University of York

Marion Cromb, University of Glasgow

Professor Helen Jarvis, Newcastle University

Natalie Smith, University of St Andrews

Dr Richard Goulding, University of Sheffield

Dr Jennifer Hessler, University of Huddersfield

Dr Eleanor Wilkinson, University of Southampton

Dr Hannah Yelin, Oxford Brookes University

Dr Julia Downes, The Open University

Dr Kristina Saunders  University of Glasgow 

Ruth Beresford, University of Sheffield

Kirsteen Fraser, University of Glasgow

Dr Stephen Henthorn, University of Sheffield

Dr Liz Ablett, University College Dublin

Danielle Bradford, sexual violence researcher & activist

Professor Bijan Parsia, University of Manchester

Dr Jane Meyrick, University of the West of England.

Dr Ian Garwood, University of Glasgow

Professor Laudan Nooshin, City, University of London

Simon Bowie, Coventry University

Dr Heather McKnight, University of Sussex and Magnetic Ideals Research Collective

Professor Rachel Cowgill, University of York

Molly Manister, Durham University

Clarissa Humphreys, Durham University

Dr Lisa Kelly, University of Glasgow

Dr Michelle Addison, Durham University 

Ed Kiely, University of Cambridge

Jacob Engelberg, King’s College London

Dr Ruth Sheldon, King’s College London

Dr Anna Judson, British School at Athens

Cat Morgan, Birkbeck College, University of London

Dr Anna Strhan, University of York 

Dr Jonathan Saha, University of Durham

Dr Jenny Lloyd, Durham University

Dr Emily Nicholls, University of York 

Kevin Leomo, University of Glasgow

Dr Vik Loveday, Goldsmiths, UoL

Dr Jessica Gagnon, University of Manchester

Andrew Bull, University of Glasgow

Reclaim the Campus Campaign 

Dr Renata Bongiorno, University of Exeter

Dr Olivia Mason, University of Glasgow

Ivana Drdáková, Vice President for Welfare at the Aberdeen University Students’ Association

Dr Lisa Kelly, University of Glasgow

Natalie Marr, University of Glasgow

Dr James Todd, University of Stirling

Dr Diljeet Kaur Bhachu, University of Glasgow, Edinburgh Napier University, Royal Northern College of Music

Dr Chris A. Williams, Open University

Emily West, University of Reading

Professor Vanita Sundaram, University of York

Dr Charlotte Morris, University of Portsmouth

Dr Elizabeth Elliott, University of Aberdeen

Dr Luisa Gandolfo, University of Aberdeen

Dr Jenny van Hooff, Manchester Metropolitan University

Dr Agni Connor, University of Aberdeen

Dr Katie Gaddini, UCL

Dr Sara De Benedictis, Brunel University London

Kai Grygier, Survivors’ Collective & Not The Only One project

Serena Rossi, Co-Convener: ABDN CASE – Consent Awareness & Sexual Education Group

Dr Melanie Crofts, De Montfort University 

Prof Steven Jones, University of Manchester

Dr Martin Findell, University of Nottingham 

Dr Raphael Nowak, University of York

Dr Kirsty Finn, Manchester Metropolitan University 

Dr Henrik Ernstson, The University of Manchester 

Dr Sarah Maria Hall, The University of Manchester 

Dr. Cristina Temenos, The University of Manchester

Professor Vanessa Munro, University of Warwick 

Dr Niamh Moore, University of Edinburgh

Dr Nikki Fairchild, University of Portsmouth

Dr Tom Western, University College London  

Dr Sophie Yarker, University of Manchester 

Dr Marian Mayer, Bournemouth University Audrey Courty, Griffith University

Dr Cassandra Jones, University of Winchester

Dr Susan Oman, The University of Sheffield

Dr Francesca Berry, University of Birmingham 

Dr Catherine McNamara, University of Portsmouth

Professor Stefan Bouzarovski, University of Manchester

Professor Chris Collins, University of Aberdeen

Dr Kelly Prince, Independent Researcher

Professor Patience Schell, University of Aberdeen

Dr Ruth Lewis, Northumbria University

Dr Amy Newman, Northumbria University

Professor Kate Maclean, Northumbria University

Dr Rima Hussein, Northumbria University

Beki Osborne, Oxford University ISVA (Oxfordshire Sexual Abuse and Rape Crisis Centre)

Richard Budd, Lancaster University

Dr Saoirse Caitlin O’Shea, Open University

Amal Abellatif, Northumbria University 

Ameera Jamil, Harassment and Hate Caseworker, Coventry University

Dr Kerri Woods, University of Leeds 

Dr Jana Bacevic, Durham University

Brontë Rapps, Northumbria University

Dr Christina Scharff, King’s College London

Pauline Rutter Open University

Aisling Third, Open University

Professor Julie Cupples, University of Edinburgh

Aleksandra Nowicka, University of Westminster

Sarah Bowen, PhD student and former complainant University of Nottingham

Dr Ana Manzano, University of Leeds

Professor Alexandra Gillespie, University of Toronto (formerly employee at Universities of Oxford and Cambridge, UK)

Dr Susan Imrie, UCL

Dr Melanie McCarry, University of Strathclyde

Lara Scheibli, University of Oxford, Philosophy Graduate Student Women’s Representative

Dr. Katherine Paugh, University of Oxford

Dr Kingsley Edney, University of Leeds

Kate Mukungu, Northumbria University and University of Cumbria

Dr Angelika Strohmayer, Northumbria University

Milo Eyre-Morgan, Cambridge Students’ Union Women’s Officer

Dr. Elizabeth Bromley, Durham University

Dr. Jamie Doucette, University of Manchester

Dr. Olivia Durand, University of Oxford – Freie Universität Berlin

Kate Wilson, University of Strathclyde

Emma Flynn, University of Strathclyde

Dr Rhi Harvey Humphrey, University of Strathclyde

Prof. Alan Kemp, University of Strathclyde

Hayley Turner-McIntyre, former Elected Welfare Officer at The University of Portsmouth Students’ Union (2019-2021)

Dr Perla Innocenti, University of Strathclyde

Dr Saska Petrova, University of Manchester

Dr Brian McNeil, Department of Physics, University of Strathclyde

Dr Graeme Hawker, University of Strathclyde

Dr Sophie Jones, University of Strathclyde

Dr Hannah Schling, University of Glasgow

Dr Alice Corble, University of Sussex

Professor Jo Brewis, The Open University 

Professor Rosie Cox, Birkbeck, University of London

Dr Sabah Boufkhed, The University of Manchester

Dr Katie Nicoll Baines, University of Edinburgh

Dr Ece Kocabıçak, The Open University


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