The University's governing body is now considering the proposed changesCMG Lee

A report presented to the University which proposes adding harassment to the University's Code of Discipline has provoked confusion among those involved in the consultation over its provision for sexual assault.

The document, prepared by the Review Committee on Student Discipline, was presented to the University's governing body by Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Education, Professor Virgo, on 7th July. The Review Committee had developed the proposals following discussion with CUSU representatives.

Harassment, under the proposals, is to be defined as any "unwanted or unwarranted conduct" towards a university member that either violates another member's dignity or creates "an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating, or offensive environment" for another member.

The Code of Discipline does not currently contain any provision covering conduct between students other than Regulation Five, which states that no university member should "intentionally or recklessly endanger the safety, health or property" of any other university member.

The proposed changes mean that the Code would cover harassment that takes place during any "academic, sporting, social, cultural, or other activity", where both alleged perpetrator and victim are members of the University. The definition would apply both within the precincts of the University and during any external event where university membership applies, such as sporting trips or academic fieldwork. 

The proposed changes also mean that the University would be able investigate a charge of harassment where one student did not want to make a complaint to police, or where no charges were brought.

Charlotte Chorley, CUSU Women's Officer, welcomed the proposals, telling Varsity that they were "an important step in the right direction, although it is a shame it has taken so long".

However, it was initially doubtful whether the proposed charge of harassment would cover allegations of sexual assault and rape.

Chorley had told Varsity that she believed sexual assault would not fall under the changes to the Code of Discipline, since it was not explicitly mentioned.

Similarly, Amelia Horgan, who was involved in discussions of the proposals as CUSU Women's Officer for 2014-15, told Varsity that "the impact that the changes will have is unclear, especially as this will not replace existing college policies and procedures," but added that she considers the changes "positive". 

Professor Virgo has since confirmed to Varsity that the new charge will cover sexual assault, and also physical assault and battery, bullying and intimidation. He also expressed his surprise at the confusion, confirming to Varsity that he had briefed both the current and former Women's Officers on the implications of this development.

Neither the report presented to the University's governing body nor the current Code of Discipline makes any reference to sexual assault (or indeed to sexual harassment; rather, they simply refer to "harassment").

Professor Virgo justified this language on the basis that "[t]he disciplinary code of conduct requires a tight legal definition of an offence. Because it was necessary to encompass all forms of sexual and non-sexual assault, harassment was the most appropriate term to use."

The changes to the Code of Discipline came into effect at the beginning of August.

The second stage of the Discipline Committee's review will include consideration on developing clearer guidance about the nature and ambit of the disciplinary process.

As Professor Virgo makes clear in his report on the changes: "This Report is the first part of a two-stage review and prepares the ground for the second stage."

The Women's Campaign argues that further work remains to be done when it comes to protecting students from sexual harassment.

"I hope that we can work together with the university to build on what is a base level policy to create something more robust that protects the students of this institution and their human rights," Chorley told Varsity.

"The Women's Campaign has a strong campaign on addressing sexual harassment policies in colleges which will gather momentum over the coming months.”

A Varsity investigation last year found that colleges' sexual harassment policies, which will be unchanged by these proposals, can be inconsistent and potentially distressing for complainants. Similarly, the proposed changes will not force faculties to alter their existing harassment and sexual assault policies.

Meanwhile, the Chair of CUSU LGBT+, Jack Renshaw, has criticised the use of binary language in the current disciplinary policy and the proposed changes, language which the campaign "does not agree with".

An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that the changes to the Code of Discipline would not go into force until after the second stage of the review. In fact, the revised code of discipline has come into force.