Support for students affected by sexual harassment and sexual assault at the University of Birmingham
Over the last few weeks there have been a number of media reports about the University of Birmingham and its handling of cases involving allegations of sexual assault by students. Not all of this reporting has been accurate. This is, in no way, a criticism of the victims who have demonstrated significant courage in coming forward.
Our previous statement is available here: https://intranet.birmingham.ac.uk/student/news/public/autumn-2019/Statement-on-Guardian-article-regarding-sexual-assault.aspx
Our position is unambiguous: occurrences of sexual harassment and violence are completely unacceptable, whether they happen on or off campus. As such, the University is committed to providing appropriate support for victims to come forward.
In contrast to some of the media coverage, accounts that we have received directly from some of our own students have been much more balanced, however we have listened carefully to the concerns raised by the Guild of Students Officer team and in a recent petition.
One element of services provided by the University is the You Report We Support (YRWS) tool, and we are confident that it is effective as a first level reporting portal. In response to student feedback, we have recently reviewed and updated the advice and guidance that accompanies the tool so that it is easier to navigate and identify the most appropriate support. YRWS is a tool to enable students to report an incident of sexual assault or harassment, and to choose whether to report this anonymously or make a formal disclosure.
Every student who chooses not to be anonymous is contacted within 24 hours by a trained first responder. The University has 15 trained responders who receive training from the West Midlands Police and the Horizon Sexual Assault Referral Centre (Horizon SARC). Our responders are there to support the student through the process of disclosure, provide information about the options available, and advise on any next steps that the student chooses to take. Students who have received this support have regularly described this as being excellent. We would be deeply concerned if, due to reports in the media, students thought they would not receive this support and we would urge students to continue to use YRWS as an effective way of accessing support.
We recognise that, in some cases, students have felt let down by the University where we have acted within the limits of our jurisdiction and investigative powers. We are not in a legal position, for example, to compel witness testimony and/or the production of evidence which might be essential to the conduct of a fair and balanced investigation. We also have a responsibility to all our students in and through these processes, including those who are accused.
In common with many other universities, we continue to grapple with the complex questions that arise when considering what happens next. Examples of such questions include: What is the University’s responsibility for investigating a crime if it is not reported to the Police? What are the boundaries of our jurisdiction? Where the Police are equipped with the tools and powers to investigate a serious crime, particularly where this might occur off campus, the University is not. We would always seek to work closely with the Police and to encourage victims to report to the Police so that they can investigate a crime, in parallel with our role to support.
We have already announced that we would be establishing an expert panel to consider these serious issues and to examine our regulations and our capacity to act. The Panel will be led by the Head of the Birmingham Law School, Professor Lisa Webley, and will include representation from the Guild of Students. The Panel’s work will begin early in 2020.
We have also committed, alongside the Guild of Students, to establish a further consultative group to examine the YRWS tool in order to review the changes we have already made and identify where we can make further improvements. This group will consult directly with students and will report to the existing Sexual Harassment Steering Group, led by the Deputy-Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Equalities, Professor Jo Duberley.
These groups will work in parallel and each will seek evidence from a wide range of students and we will be back in touch with students next term to advise how they can provide input to the review.
The University already provides specific funding to the Guild of Students to operate the excellent Not-On Ambassadors scheme which provides for peer-to-peer education on issues of consent. This is one part of a wider campaign to promote an environment in which sexual harassment of any kind is deemed to be wholly unacceptable and to enable students to have the knowledge, ability and confidence to report and take action against all forms of sexual harassment. The University is committed to continuing funding for the campaign and developing student-centred approaches to this important issue. Further information about the Not-On campaign is available here: https://www.guildofstudents.com/noton
We would urge students again to utilise the YRWS tool. It is important to reiterate that support is available and every identifiable disclosure is contacted within 24 hours (working days) by a trained responder. In addition, we always encourage students to report all crimes directly to the Police, and where appropriate to the Horizon SARC via our webpages or by contacting the SARC directly via their 24 hour support line: 0800 970 0375.
For all of our information and to access support via the YRWS tool see our webpages here: https://intranet.birmingham.ac.uk/youreportwesupport
You can access information and support on our intranet pages