CN: Reports of sexual harassment and assault, discussions on the reporting procedure
When it comes to reporting sexual harassment and assault, the current system in place in Cambridge is failing students.
The system currently consists of a central university office, the Office of Student Conduct, Complaints and Appeals (OSCCA), which has a team of advisers and investigators to handle any reports made. However, the system is not completely centralized, as each college also has its own procedure for reporting harassment and sexual assault, which can follow the OSCCA model, although it is not mandatory, and which can be adapted according to the wishes of the colleges. The arguments in favor of a total centralization of the procedure are solid: more than 1,000 students have signed a open letter demanding it almost a year ago, but complex.
Problems with college reporting procedures
The problems with this current system were clearly highlighted in the recent case of Trinity Hall. In summary, the then acting principal guardian of the college remained in his post following a sexual assault allegation for more than six months. During this time, they were tasked with overseeing student sexual assault complaints, which drew much criticism of the process. This Turtle press article discusses in depth how everything has been mismanaged at Trinity Hall and should be read in its entirety.
Ultimately, what this case highlights is exactly why a centralized reporting procedure for harassment and sexual assault is so necessary.
First, colleges are relatively small institutions, creating a world where everyone knows each other. that of the university website takes pride in “the small-scale nature of the college community and the loyalty it inspires among its fellow students,” but it is clear that this also has ramifications when it comes to protecting vulnerable students reporting bullying sexual or sexual assault. The interconnected nature of college staff and long-standing friendships has the potential to hamper cases and hamper accountability.
These entanglements could be reduced through a centralized reporting process, where those responsible have a higher degree of separation of the case and the people involved: they work in their own office and are very unlikely to know the people involved in a particular case. .
Lack of training and resources
The research and lobbying organization, The 1752 Group, in their sector council on how higher education institutions should deal with sexual assault, write that “investigators should be trained and independent,” which often does not happen in colleges, where college staff are anything but independent, meets frequently conflict of interest and often lack the training required to deal with harassment or assault cases.
This lack of training on sexual harassment and sexual assault has been acknowledged by the Master of Trinity Hall in 2018: “’We neither have the specialist expertise in our own organization, nor perhaps a sufficient depth of numbers, to ensure that we can adequately investigate and adjudicate the most serious allegations. Yet even though colleges have been open about the barriers they face in resolving sexual harassment cases, the college is still expected to deal with cases of sexual misconduct, when they are not. clearly do not have the proper training and resources to do so.
Even college staff who have the best intentions in handling these cases have not been trained in the same way as the OSCCA, which can significantly hamper reporting procedures. When talking to victims about their experience, knowing what to say and what not to say is essential to avoid re-traumatizing them. When processing and making decisions about cases and victims, there is no room for error.
A larger systematic problem
However, while the situation at Trinity Hall represents the fundamental flaws in the sexual harassment process and the college has (rightly) received wide media coverage for it, these issues go beyond a member of staff or staff. from a college. Many other colleges have similar issues, just dealt with more quietly.
This is evident in a declaration from the SU: “As an SU we too often hear from students whose colleges have mismanaged harassment complaints, with tutors ignoring the various support services that exist, or from students treated with open contempt when college tightens. the ranks to protect senior management, undermining the well-being and betraying the trust of those brave enough to come forward.
Reporting sexual misconduct is already an incredibly difficult and traumatic experience for victims, and tThe fact that students are dissuaded from continuing their action after having had the courage to make a first report is totally unacceptable.
In addition to solving these problems, centralization could also ensure a central recording of cases and a solid paper trail. The OSCCA keeps records of all complaints, regardless of their outcome, meaning they can be compared to each other, looking for common patterns and even corroborations. The 1752 Group said such records are necessary “to protect their students and staff from a reasonably foreseeable risk of sexual misconduct and / or to comply with their obligations under the Equality Act”. Having such a paper trail is essential to holding perpetrators accountable and ensuring the safety of students.
Some people might argue that it is good that university and college procedures exist, as they allow victims to choose. I appreciate the value of this, and there are no doubt many reasons why a student might prefer to go through college when reporting something. However, there are issues with these college procedures that are not always clearly explained to students.
Reporting procedures, and who exactly manages them, can often be unclear. Colleges make a lot of claims and promises that they ultimately won’t keep. And even if they do, students have no way of knowing what potential biases exist. The colleges are small and the loyalty of the staff is impossible to know.
Another problem that arises is the fact that sometimes some cases may not fall under the purview of the university, which means that the university is not in a position to deal with them. For example, staff employed only by a college, and not by the university itself, would not fall under the mandate of the OSCCA. This means that it may be necessary for colleges to be able to handle cases of sexual misconduct on their own – unless, that is, serious restructuring takes place.
Although I only spoke about sexual harassment and sexual assault, it should be noted that the same procedures are used for all forms of harassment, including racial harassment; many of the same arguments apply, but it adds another layer of complexity.
The harassment and assault reporting system is clearly flawed and represents a significant stress for victims of sexual harassment and assault. Centralizing harassment and aggression policies would eliminate the risk of conflicts of interest, the damage that can be done when such cases are handled by non-experts, and help create a university with a culture of zero tolerance towards sexual misconduct.
This article was written by a member of Loud and Clear, a campaign group working on issues of sexual assault and harassment in Cambridge, as part of Sexual Abuse and Sexual Violence Awareness Week (1st- February 7, 2021).
When approached for comment, a spokesperson for Trinity Hall said: “Students can report incidents [of sexual harassment] directly at the College or through the centralized system of the University. The College has strong reporting and support procedures in place, and for complaints that include allegations of serious sexual misconduct, the complainant will typically be referred to the Office of Student Conduct, Complaints and Appeals (OSCCA) of the University, which has been particularly well-resourced to investigate complaints of this nature.
“University disciplinary regulations will then be followed, rather than College procedures. Exceptionally, if there are compelling reasons why a referral to the OSCCA is not appropriate, the College may investigate the complaint itself.
Regarding the independent investigation mentioned in the article, they said, “We cannot comment further while the investigation process is underway.”
A university spokesperson told The Tab: “The University of Cambridge has a centralized reporting system that all students can access. More information about the University’s reporting and assistance options is available at: www.studentcomplaints.admin.cam.ac.uk/reporting“
Related articles recommended by this author:
• Meet Loud and Clear: the project that challenges the culture surrounding sexual assault
• Trinity Hall Scandals: What Happens Now?
• Opinion: Students should not be disciplined for reporting harassment and assault