Unless Regent House calls for a vote on the Grace, it will pass automatically on 23rd DecemberCmglee

The University Council has put forward a Grace proposing new regulations for the handling of cases of “harassment and sexual misconduct”, including several specific punishments for those responsible for harassment.

Under the proposed new measures, those involved in allegations of harassment or sexual misconduct could be barred from University buildings and suspended from their studies while the complaint was being processed, and, if an allegation were found to be valid, the accused would have to agree to participate in remedial measures or else face disciplinary action

The report defines harassment “as single or repeated incidents involving unwanted or unwarranted conduct towards another person which it is reasonable to think would have the effect of (i) violating that other’s dignity or (ii) creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating, or offensive environment for that other.”

Of the definition of sexual misconduct, it says: “Sexual misconduct includes the following, whether or not within a sexual or romantic relationship, including where consent to some form of sexual activity has been given and then withdrawn, or if consent has been given on previous occasions: sexual intercourse or engaging in a sexual act without consent; attempting to engage in sexual intercourse or engaging in a sexual act without consent; sharing private sexual materials of another person without consent; kissing without consent; touching inappropriately through clothes without consent; inappropriately showing sexual organs to another person; repeatedly following another person without good reason; making unwanted remarks of a sexual nature.”

Under the proposed procedure, the Academic Secretary would have the power to impose a range of precautionary measures while the complaint was being processed, to ensure a “full and proper investigation” by the University or the police, and to protect those who make complaints of harassment and sexual misconduct (“complainant”). These measures would include exclusion from University premises and facilities; conditions on the use of facilities; or suspension from studies, either fully or in part.

Complaints of incidents of harassment would be made in writing to the Head of the Office of Student Conduct, Complaints and Appeals (OSCCA), no later than three months after the alleged incident. A group within the Office would then decide whether or not to refer the complaint to an investigator.

If an allegation against an individual (the “respondent”) were found to be justified, the Head of OSCCA, or of a reviewing panel, including one student, would decide upon a resolution to the case, which may include a conduct agreement by the respondent, a period of intermission, or that the respondent attend “behaviour awareness training or workshops”. This resolution would be agreed upon by both the complainant and the respondent, and if the respondent failed to meet its terms, they would be referred to the University Advocate.

Alternatively, it may be recommended that the complainant and the respondent agree a settlement between them. The report encourages the two parties to reach such an agreement before making a formal complaint, “Wherever appropriate”.

The report states that University authorities would usually decide not to handle a case if a criminal investigation were being carried out into the incident, or if the complainant were intending to make a police complaint.

Under the proposals, the identity of the individual making the complaint of harassment or sexual misconduct would be made known to the alleged perpetrator. However, the report makes provision for those who face repercussions for their decision to make a complaint: “A Complainant who believes that he or she has suffered any reprisal, or has received a threat of reprisal, as a result of making a complaint in good faith should raise the matter with the Head of OSCCA.”

The proposals state that an annual report of all complaints of harassment and sexual misconduct would be made to the University Council, the General Board, and the colleges of the University. Personal details of those involved would not be divulged in this report.

The regulations were recommended by a joint report of the University Council and the General Board, and also have the support of the Senior Tutors’ Committee and the Committee on Student Health and Wellbeing. They follow a Grace of July 2015 which enabled the University to bring disciplinary charges against perpetrators of harassment.

The report also comes in the wake of a study by Universities UK calling upon universities to develop comprehensive, institution-wide responses to harassment.

The report states that its proposals are a response to “an increasing awareness of the incidence of harassment, rape, and other forms of sexual assault within the wider student community, the developments at US universities, and student and other initiatives that have identified the issues and pressed for greater engagement by the UK HE sector in tackling them.”

They were developed “following consultation with students and with officers of CUSU and the GU, the police and other local agencies, including Rape Crisis, and with the University Advocate.”

They will make clear, the report adds, that “the University will not tolerate student harassment or sexual misconduct,” and they “form part of the collegiate University’s wider response in support of that message, which includes raising awareness, measures to support cultural and behavioural change based on mutual respect, and the provision of support for students who have been affected.”

In a discussion of the report on 6th December, detailed in the Cambridge University Reporter, four individuals spoke in favour of the report: Dame Barbara Stocking, who is President of Murray Edwards College; CUSU Women’s Officer Audrey Sebatindira; Pembroke College Senior Tutor Dr Mark Wormald; and Professor Dame Athene Donald, who is Master of Churchill College.

According to minutes in the Reporter, Dame Barbara’s statement said that she was “shocked at the level of harassment, student to student, taking place in Cambridge; mainly, though not exclusively, against women.”

She argued that “in many cases, the complainant is unlikely to want to go to the police”, and as such it “would be entirely wrong to leave young women without internal University procedures for complaint in these circumstances.” She added: “I believe the procedures have been thought through very carefully.”

Sebatindira also praised the report, saying: “it is really great to see that the University has stepped up to protect its students.” She argued that an institution-wide policy was needed to prevent vulnerable students “from slipping through the cracks.”

She expressed particular approbation of the inclusion of independent investigators in the procedure, claiming that “anecdotal evidence from many student would suggest that an investigation carried out by someone wholly removed from the parties of the complaint would be a necessary addition to the current system.”

However, the proposals did not go uncriticised. In a statement, Dr Elaine Freer offered “general support for the spirit of the points raised” but warned that “the mechanism that is being proposed does not offer appropriate protection of the rights of accused students.” She added: “It must be remembered that such students are innocent until their guilt is proven.”

She also raised concerns that the system could come into conflict with the criminal justice system.

Unless the Grace is withdrawn or members of Regent House call for a vote on it, it will pass automatically at 4pm on the 23rd December.

The issue of sexual misconduct has long been a topic of discussion in Cambridge. In 2014, a joint survey by Varsity and the CUSU Women’s Campaign found that 55 per cent of respondents had suffered exposure to sexually suggestive comments, which are included in the University’s definition of sexual misconduct. The survey also found that 4.4 per cent of female respondents and 1.5 per cent of male respondents were survivors of sexual assault.

A spokesperson for the University told Varsity:  "The University is currently reviewing its disciplinary procedures, particularly in light of new guidance published by Universities UK in October 2016 regarding the investigation of misconduct that could constitute a criminal offence. As part of the review, the University is in the final stages of establishing a new procedure and Code of Conduct to deal with student complaints of student harassment and sexual misconduct.

"The formulation of this procedure has been influenced by the experience of American universities, particularly Yale, and has been developed in close collaboration with undergraduate and graduate student representatives from the University, and discussions with the local police.

"The Procedure is designed to help students to raise a complaint about sexual misconduct which can lead to a number of actions taking place, including having their interaction with the respondent student limited or the University offering behavioural awareness courses for respondents.  The complaint will be investigated to confirm the agreed facts and the points in dispute, but a ‘decision’ about what took place will not be made.

"After the investigation both students are given a copy of the report which will include any recommended actions. The University can also request a formal investigation of the complaint under the separate University Discipline Procedure when there is a lack of engagement from respondents. Staff trained to deal with cases of alleged sexual misconduct will offer support and advice to all students who raise a complaint of sexual misconduct.

"The University engaged with the UUK’s “Changing The Culture” taskforce when it started work on this area, to ensure that our procedures were in alignment with many of the subsequent report’s recommendations.

"These new developments form part of a wider university policy which supports an inclusive environment founded on mutual respect between students. This policy is supported by various other initiatives including consent workshops and the adoption of codes of acceptable conduct by sports teams.

"As part of measures to make the University environment more transparent, a further working group has been set up to consider further guidance for staff to enable them to engender a culture that is free from all types of harassment."

Speaking to Varsity on behalf of CUSU, Sebatindira said: "We welcome the University's renewed commitment to tackling sexual harassment. CUSU has been involved with the drafting process from the very beginning. We will be taking on measures to make the guidelines as accessible to students as possible and continuing to work with the University on combatting the issue.

"What's particularly heartening is the fact that Cambridge's guidelines align quite well with the UUK's recently published recommendations for universities. However, a lot more needs to be done to change the culture that has allowed sexual harassment to flourish; this is a single step in the right direction."