The open letter states that the current disciplinary procedure "places undue burden on someone who has experienced a traumatic event"Louis Ashworth

The Women’s Campaign have today published an open letter, demanding that the University update the disciplinary procedure for cases of harassment and sexual misconduct.

The letter, signed by CUSU Women’s Officer Lola Olufemi, women’s officers from a number of colleges and a growing list of students, says that the procedure should be changed so that a criminal standard of proof is no longer required in order for perpetrators to be sanctioned.

The letter argues that the current disciplinary procedure “actively hinders” the aims of the University’s widely publicised ‘Breaking the Silence’ harassment and sexual misconduct initiative, and deters survivors from pursuing claims.

According to a University spokesperson, the disciplinary procedures are already under review.

Last term, the University launched its flagship ‘Breaking the Silence’ campaign, which established its first formal policy on relations between students and employed figures of responsibility. The campaign is centred on the Breaking the Silence website, which provides a single portal for policy information, incident reporting, preventive training, and, direct links to routes of support for victims.

The Women’s Campaign are calling for all decisions made by the University Discipline Committee to rely on “the balance of probabilities”, a standard of proof satisfied when it is more probable that a claim is true rather than untrue.

Under the current model, “complainants” must prove before the Disciplinary Committee that an alleged incident took place as if in a court of law, though disciplinary sanctions have no effect on a perpetrator’s criminal record or legal standing.

The open letter demands further reform, including the explicit inclusion of the new University Sexual Assault and Harassment Advisor, a role introduced in Michaelmas term, within the disciplinary procedure. It also puts pressure on the University to increase financial investment in internal support services and simplify disciplinary regulations and procedure.


Mountain View

Centralised support offered for victims of sexual assault and harassment

Citing anonymous reporting statistics released by the University earlier this week, the letter points out that, although 173 anonymous reports about sexual misconduct were made in the nine months following the introduction of the reporting tool in May 2017, far fewer individuals chose to access any formal disciplinary routes. The proposed changes would also allow non-members of the University to report an incident through the tool.

The letter states that current procedure reflects “a lack of trust in the institution’s ability to deal with these cases robustly. By requiring cases to be proven ‘beyond reasonable doubt,’ the University is implying that there is unlikely to be consequences for perpetrators in disciplinary cases pertaining to sexual misconduct, unless the survivor goes to the police.

“This places undue burden on someone who has experienced a traumatic event especially because we know that the police routinely fail to rigorously investigate cases of sexual violence.”

The balance of probabilities is the measure upheld by a number of UK and US universities, and, as the letter cites, “almost all professional bodies, including the General Medical Council when considering allegations of misconduct for doctors and the Bar Standards Board when considering allegations of misconduct for barristers”.

In a statement, the Women’s Campaign said that “If we want survivors to come forward, if we demand disclosure - we must also signal to them that we will do everything in our power to ensure they are believed, supported and that there will be disciplinary sanctions for perpetrators.

“Supporting survivors is not something we say, it is something we do.”

The letter follows a string of publicity steps taken by the University to promote its “zero-tolerance” stance on harassment and sexual misconduct this week. A number of academics and University figures, including pro-Vice Chancellor for Education Graham Virgo, have released opinion pieces as part of the ‘Breaking the Silence’ campaign.

In a statement to Varsity, the a University spokesperson said: “The University’s disciplinary procedures are currently under review and any feedback received through students and or staff will be carefully considered and form part of the discussion around improvements that should be made to the disciplinary procedures.”

“Currently, the University has a wide range of support and reporting mechanisms available for students and staff at the University, which have been designed and implemented following consultation with the University community and specialist organisations including Cambridge Rape Crisis Centre.

“We continue to work to improve the prevention, response, support and investigation of all instances of harassment and sexual misconduct; and to enable staff and students to feel safe and supported in make disclosures.”

This article was updated to include the statement from the University of Cambridge.