Universities, sexual misconduct and confidentiality

Sexual abuse on campus – an update on the UK perspective

We previously mentioned a rise in reported incidents of sexual assaults and misconducts made by students in the UK, here.

The BBC reports that universities are using non-disclosure agreements (‘NDA’) – commonly known as ‘gagging clauses’ – to prevent students from publicising complaints about sexual assault on campus. BBC News asked UK universities how many students had signed NDAs since 2016 and how much, if any, money had been paid out to them.  Almost all the UK universities replied.  45 universities said they had used NDAs and 300 students had signed NDAs.  However these figures are thought to underestimate the true picture, as some universities provided limited information in answer to the BBC’s queries.  In the article two students say they reported sexual assault by fellow students to their university.  They criticise their respective universities for offering insufficient support and using NDAs.  Another student is critical of her college for offering financial settlement and a NDA after she reported safeguarding concerns.

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Universities in the spotlight: Sexual abuse on campus – the US perspective

In the US, the start of the academic year is called the “red zone”, as more than 50% of sexual assaults are said to occur between August and November. These assaults are under-reported and, until recently, have not always been properly investigated.  Criminal prosecutions of rape and sexual assault cases occurring on campus are rare and universities have been accused of protecting those accused of sexual assault, including athletes.

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Universities in the spotlight: Sexual abuse on campus – the UK perspective

There has been a marked increase in the number of reported incidents of sexual assaults or misconduct made by students. BBC File on Four (17 September 2019) asked 115 universities the number of complaints they received.  80 universities replied.  The combined number of complaints was more than 700 last year.  According to Channel Four, incidents reported went from 65 in 2014 to 626 in 2018, an 85% increase.  165 allegations of rape or sexual assault have been reported by students at one university alone in the last three years.  This trend reflects an increased willingness to report incidents – although many are never reported – and an increased willingness to investigate them.

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