Statement on Guardian articles regarding sexual assault
We commend the courage of all victims of rape and sexual assault and their bravery in reporting and speaking out about incidents.
The University has many roles in relation to any allegations of sexual assault involving students, including supporting students to report to the relevant authorities, particularly the police, so that they can carry out a full investigation and support any prosecution; providing support, counselling and signposting to specialist services for students; and taking internal disciplinary action within our Regulations.
The University is normally guided by the wishes of the student, and if a student decides not to pursue a University investigation, then the University is unlikely to be able to take any further action. We always encourage students to report to the police as they have the necessary specialist resources, and are empowered to investigate alleged serious criminal offences, following which the University would be enabled to take further formal action.
We are sorry if any student feels that the support offered by the University fell short of their expectations. The safety and wellbeing of our students is of paramount importance and we have invested significantly in taking a proactive approach to supporting students who have suffered sexual abuse whenever and wherever it may have occurred. This includes help with accessing specialist support and counselling services, working with the police, and pursuing any formal action.
The safety and wellbeing of our students is of paramount importance and we have invested significantly in taking a proactive approach to supporting students who have suffered sexual abuse whenever and wherever it may have occurred. This includes help with accessing specialist support and counselling services, working with the police, and pursuing any formal action. We are one of a small number of universities that have invested in an anonymous reporting tool to provide a safe space for students to report any incidents of harassment, assault, sexual violence or rape which have occurred at any time in their lives and in any location. We also work with the Guild of Students to deliver the peer-to-peer and student-led Not-On Ambassadors programme that raises awareness of sexual assault issues across all students. In addition, later this year we will open a dedicated suite to provide support to students who may have been the victim of sexual assault.
We take the training of our staff very seriously and have 15 fully trained Sexual Violence First Responders, who are supported and themselves trained by two dedicated Sexual Violence Liaison Officers. Academic staff across the University are asked to ‘recognise and refer’ to ensure that students are sent to the right support and advice, at the right time. This is in addition to the 100 staff across campus who are trained in safeguarding issues, including in how respond to cases of sexual violence. We work closely with valued partners, including the Sexual Assault Referral Centre and West Midlands Police, who train their own staff and provide additional training and support within the University. We also offer Not On consent workshops and bystander training for students, which have been positively received.
When a student makes an initial complaint of sexual assault, we offer a meeting with a ‘Responder’ who is trained to support students who have experienced sexual assault and help them decide what they want to do. We always encourage students to report the incident to the police as they are empowered to investigate alleged serious criminal offences, which could enable the University to take further formal action. However, without the powers or specialist resources that come with a police investigation such as search, seizure of materials or evidence including mobile phone records or CCTV coverage of the area, ability to require someone to give evidence, to carry out an interview under caution or access forensic support to provide further evidence, we face a real problem of how we can fairly investigate an allegation that is several years old. It is for that reason we work so closely with the police (we have two police officers and two PCSOs who are dedicated to working on campus and in the sizable student residential area adjacent to the University). Our approach is based on the principles of natural justice which recognises the rights of all parties to arrive at a fair and reasonable outcome.
Regardless of a students’ decision to report the matter to the police or not, our wellbeing services will work with the individual and specialist external services and we want to ensure every student knows they can approach the University’s specialist services for support and advice. It was a positive reflection of this that in this case the student felt they had been offered effective welfare and counselling support.
A University group led by a senior academic keeps our policies in relation to student misconduct, including sexual harassment and assault, under regular review. This includes reviewing the University’s practice in light of the UUK guidance on sexual assault.
If you are looking for support
We are here to give you the support and advice you need - and to help you make an informed decision about what to do next. Visit our webpages to find out more about your report and support options, learn about our joint campaign against sexual harassment and violence, find further sources of support.