Survivors: we stand with you

Credit: Katrina Williams

Bethany Woodhead, Tara Gandhi & Sam Doak
Editors-in-Chief & Investigations Editor

Systematic policy failures makes reporting complaints extremely difficult.

CW: This story discusses sexual assault

More than half of UK students have faced instances of sexual misconduct, yet less than 8% have reported to the police or their university. A survey by the charity Brook and the student database Dig-In found that 49% of female students had been touched inappropriately, but only 5% reported the incident. Over half of the respondents also said that the perpetrator was another student on campus, with a third reporting that the incidents took place on campus.

But things are changing, slowly but surely, and more people are coming forward. In the last year alone, there has been an 82% increase in reports of rape and sexual assault at UK universities. The problem is widespread and it exists within our own university. We analysed the policies and complaints procedures that are in place at the University of Glasgow to identify some flaws that are potentially deterring students from making reports. Following the issues found, we have put together a few simple steps to guide you if you would like to make a report regarding sexual violence or rape to the University.

What happens when I report a sexual assault to the University?

First and foremost, your safety and wellbeing are of utmost importance and whether or not you decide to report to the University is ultimately your choice. The unions have restricted powers and are only really equipped to handle minor misdemeanors; at most, they can ban members from the premises. The University, on the other hand, have established robust investigation processes with staff who have been trained to handle serious misconduct. The University has also trained Sexual Violence and Harassment First Responders who can provide confidential and sensistive support. You can find a list of First Responders at https://www.gla.ac.uk/myglasgow/students/safetyhealth/sexualviolencesupport/. They will be able to meet with you privately, listen and support, and provide you with options on what can be done both within the University and externally.

The SRC Advice Centre can also provide such information, as well as being able to represent you in Senate should the perpetrator be another student. More information can be found at https://www.glasgowstudent.net/advice/the-advice-centre/.

Through the University’s website, you can find the “Report and Support” form which allows you to make a report, which you can choose to submit either anonymously or named: https://www.gla.ac.uk/myglasgow/students/safetyhealth/reportandsupport/.

If you decide you would like to make a report to Senate, this does not mean you will be forced to make a report to the police.

If there is more than one person wanting to report a complaint about the same issue or person, only one brave individual must waive their anonymity to Senate in order to act as spokesperson and represent the group.

Glasgow University Sports Association (GUSA)
GUSA’s sexual misconduct policy can be found online in their Equality and Diversity Policy. Last updated in 2013, it outlines the standard to which GUSA members and all affiliated clubs must operate, stating the Association has a “zero tolerance approach to […] discrimination arising from disability, harassment, victimisation and bullying”. The responsibility of ensuring the policy is observed lies with the president, in conjunction with the GUSA Council: “the GUSA president is the initial point of contact in any instance of harassment or abuse, whether perpetrated by a student of the University or a member of an opposing side.” They state that, “Any person who believes that he or she has been treated in a way that they consider to be in breach of this policy […] should first complain to that person or organisation.” Therefore, their guidelines outline that the first step a victim should take is to make their complaint known to the abuser; with many complaints this could be deeply problematic, but particularly in the case of sexual assault, it is unaskable. The guidelines go on to state that “if this does not resolve the matter, […] the person may raise the matter by writing directly to the president.” There is no policy in place for if an individual wants to make a complaint against the president. Sanctions are decided by the GUSA Executive Committee (sometimes called the Executive Council), which is made up of the president, the vice-president and the secretary. They will consider the severity of the issue and “take account of any mitigating circumstances”. There are no provisions written in the GUSA Constitution or the Equality and Diversity policy for if a member of the Executive Committee is facing sanctions. If the violation of the policy amounts to a criminal offence, the appropriate authority will be informed, and GUSA will “cooperate fully with any investigation carried out by the relevant lawful authorities”. It is not clear whether any incidents that violate the Equality and Diversity Policy will be passed on to the University Senate, or if any other unions will be made aware.

There appears to be an awareness within GUSA of the flaws in the current policy, with both opposing candidates for presidency during last year’s elections mentioning support for victims of sexual assault within their manifestos.

Queen Margaret Union (QMU):
The Queen Margaret Union passed their new complaints policy on Monday 7 October 2019; a week away from the one-year mark since the publication of a Glasgow Guardian investigation which found substantial failures in their sexual harassment policy and reporting procedures. The Union has been operating using a draft policy, which was published in August of this year. The new complaints policy, however, is open to “members of, and visitors to QMU” and adopts a very comprehensible and user-friendly approach. It highlights that serious complaints can be submitted via email to the president of the union, and then provides an alternative point of contact and email address for when the complaint is “regarding the president”.

“A staff or board member with appropriate training” will typically handle complaints, with the policy specifically stating that anyone “personally implicated” will not be involved in investigating the complaint. The QMU have stated that they will also “seek advice from the University’s Complaints Resolution Office”, where necessary. They then provide the address of the University’s Court Office, should a complainant feel unhappy with the outcome of an informal complaint.

While minor misdemeanours will be dealt with by the QMU themselves, the policy explicitly states that “more significant complaints about student conduct will be passed to the University’s Senate Office for investigation”. This resolution comes after the 2018 Glasgow Guardian investigation which discovered the Union had failed to report allegations of sexual misconduct against a board member to any other University institutions, despite four formal allegations having been reported to the Union, a 12-month ban against the accused being put in place, and an investigation by the Union’s disciplinary committee upholding the complaints.

The new policy is a two-and-a-half page document and can be found on their website.

Glasgow University Students’ Representative Council (GUSRC/SRC):
The Students’ Representative Council are the main student advocacy body on campus, with provisions in place to represent, support, and give advice to students at the University of Glasgow. The GUSRC complaints procedure requests complaints be set out in writing and sent either to the SRC building or to the provided email address. A stage two complaint will be dealt with by the Permanent Secretary, and while the policy does allude to an alternative option if the complaint is about the Permanent Secretary, it is not explicitly clear how this will be handled. If the Permanent Secretary considers themselves to be subject to a conflict of interest, they can recuse themselves and “refer the complaint to the appropriate SRC Executive Officer”. Although the email address to send a complaint to is a generic address, it is not clear to complainants whether stage two complaints are directed straight to the Permanent Secretary, neither does it provide details of another point of contact, should a person want someone else to deal with their issue initially.

The policy also does not provide specific information on various complaint types, or provide information on how complaints will be handled depending on their specifics; it simply states that all complaints will be investigated by the Permanent Secretary or an SRC Executive Officer, or referred to the appropriate authorities if in breach of the University’s rules or criminal law.

Nevertheless, the GUSRC provide an invaluable “Sexual Violence Support & Resources” guide on their website, containing very accessible information and advice.

GUSRC Online Resource:
The Students’ Representative Council worked very closely with Rape Crisis Scotland to produce an online resource on sexual violence and support for survivors. It puts the immediate physical and mental well-being of survivors at the forefront, and is very user-friendly. The first two sections are on “What to do after rape or assault” and “Health” – they include immediate suggestions, such as finding somewhere safe, staying warm and drinking plenty of fluids, finding someone you trust to help you, and seeking medical attention. It also provides assurances that some people may be unaware of, such as the fact that if you are to seek medical attention, the hospital and GP must see you on a confidential basis and won’t report to the police unless you want them to. This kind of information is very important for survivors to know, as threats of reporting are frightening and can remove a sense of control. The resource then refers to two places one can receive medical attention close to the University: Archway Sexual Assault Referral Centre and the Queen Elizabeth University Hospital.

The “Reporting to the police” section follows and gives details on what will happen if you decide to go to the authorities. Crucially, the resource states that “it is your choice”. It highlights that you have the option to take someone with you and how a specialist officer will see you, and that they will usually be a woman. It also states that you can ring 101 and get a member of the police to visit you at home to make a report if you don’t feel able to go to a police station.

The guide also lets people know that if they feel in danger on campus, they can contact the University’s security and it provides a link to the University’s “Report and Support” form.

Another useful section of the online resource is that it provides information on what to do if you’re a victim of revenge porn, thus emphasising that you can be violated without it being physical – sexual misconduct comes in a variety of forms – and there are things in place to help and protect you.

At the end of the resource, there is a list of places you can seek help, advice and support, such as Archway, Rape Crisis, Survivors UK, and Scottish Women’s Aid. It also refers to services provided directly by the University, such as the SRC’s own Advice Centre and the Counselling and Psychological services.

Glasgow University Union (GUU):
The Glasgow University Union’s (GUU) current complaints procedure came into effect in July 2019. Despite this, the Union has continued to display its old, outdated complaints procedure both online and on premises. When a Glasgow Guardian writer asked a staff member for the policy, they were directed to the outdated version several times by staff who believed the person was trying to make a complaint. GUU president, Matthew Millar, was shown the issue and agreed it needed to be changed. Concerned about the welfare of those attempting to make complaints, the writer from The Glasgow Guardian asked Millar twice to update this policy, the first time over two weeks ago, on 27 September. At the time of printing, the outdated policy continues to be displayed. To view the up to date policy, one should go to the porter’s box and make sure they are shown the 2019 policy.

Under the outdated 2013 rules, which the GUU continues to advertise, it does not allow for complaints to be made against non-members – a large contingent of the GUU’s clientele. Furthermore, the policy refers readers to sections of the old GUU constitution, which is no longer in force.

The GUU’s current 2019 complaints procedure does allow complaints to be made against non-members for inappropriate conduct.

Under the current rules, a complaint may be made by filling out the allotted form and submitting it to the Union’s honorary secretary. The complaint must, according to the rules, be made “as soon as reasonably practicable”. There is no guidance as to what time period would constitute this.

Once this form has been submitted, the complaining party is not to discuss the matter with the subject of the complaint, nor anyone else named in the form (witnesses, etc).

The honorary secretary investigates the complaint, once it has been brought to them. If it is inappropriate for the honorary secretary to investigate, there is a structure in place to pass the complaint on. The investigator then has 14 days to decide if the charges are “competent and appropriate”. If they are deemed so, the honorary secretary is compelled to submit their recommendations and any evidence to the board. The board may then instigate disciplinary proceedings.

This involves a disciplinary panel. The honorary secretary is responsible for presenting the case against the subject of the complaint. No witness may be present during another witness’ appearance at the hearing. If the verdict is unanimous, the case will be found “proven”. If so, the subject of the complaint will have 14 days to appeal this decision. It is not clear if “proven” cases will be passed on to the Senate and the other student bodies.

The University:
The University complaints procedure can be found on the University website and is a long and comprehensive document which stresses the importance of respecting the confidentiality and privacy of any complainants. It states that anonymous complaints can be made if “there is enough information in the complaint to enable the University to make further enquiries.” In the instance of joint complaints about the same issue or person, only one member of the group will have to waive their anonymity and act as a spokesperson. If an anonymous complaint is taken on, the complainant will be made aware of who will know of their identity and then they can decide whether they want to take the process any further. The policy also states that the complainant should raise the complaint as soon as they become aware of the issue, and gives a time limit of six months from the beginning of the problem. However, the time limit can be overwritten by special circumstances, if the Clerk of Senate accepts the circumstances as reasonable. Stage two complaints will be completed within 20 working days, although the policy does specify this only applies to “straightforward cases”. Stage two complaints are those that need a process of investigation before they can be resolved, and so most cases of sexual misconduct will fall under stage two. Stage two complaints can be submitted in person to any member of the University staff, over the phone, in writing, or by email. The addresses that complaints should be sent to can be found in section 29.9.4 of the Complaints Procedure. Complaints cannot be made on behalf of the victim, unless they are under the age of 18 or have given consent under the Data Protection Act. All evidence must be submitted by the victim themselves, and the policy is careful to state that unauthorised electronic recordings cannot be submitted as evidence.

Although the university policy is fairly dense and not very user-friendly, there is a simple “Report and Support” tool available online, which allows students to submit complaints quickly while disclosing only as much information as they are comfortable with.

When asked to comment on whether or not he believes the University and the unions have sufficient procedures and policies in place to deal with sexual violence and misconduct claims, Dr David Duncan – the University’s Chief Operating Officer – stated, “We take this issue very seriously indeed. Our approach is to work closely with both staff and students on the matter. Our first priority is to make sure everyone knows what behaviours are acceptable and what constitutes unacceptable behaviour; secondly, we want to make it as easy as possible for students to access support when they need it.

“Last year we introduced a ‘Report and Support’ tool, which students can use to report unacceptable behaviour of any kind, whether on campus or outside the University. Simply type ‘Report and Support’ into the search engine on the University website or follow this link:

https://www.gla.ac.uk/myglasgow/students/safetyhealth/reportandsupport/

“It only takes a few minutes to fill in. If you give your name, the head of student support and wellbeing will get back in touch with you within 24 hours and will help you to consider the options available to you (or you can submit a report anonymously if you prefer). We can also arrange for professional counselling on a completely confidential basis.

“In addition, we have also increased the number of trained Respect Advisers and are working to raise awareness more generally about gender-based violence, harassment, bullying and discrimination.

“We have been in discussion with the student unions and are encouraging them to pass cases on to the Senate Office for investigation under the Student Conduct Code. We have in place a professional investigative team and we work closely with the SRC and Counselling Services to ensure students have access to full and fair representation and support.”

Scott Kirby, president of the Students’ Representative Council, also emphasised the support available to students: “This issue has been at the forefront of students’ minds at the University for quite some time now, and it is clear to see that there is still work that needs to be done to develop and ensure complaints and discipline policies and procedures are completely fit for purpose. Students need to be enabled to report any instances of misconduct, and any deterrent to do so must be addressed.

“To ensure these procedures are indeed fit for purpose, we stand firm that any potential breach of the Student Code of Conduct, regardless of where breaches may have occurred, need to be handled and investigated through the correct University channels. Considering the membership of each of the four student bodies are students of the University of Glasgow, the procedures and policies implemented by the student bodies need to be aligned with that of the University, to ensure the safety and wellbeing of all students on campus.

“For any student that comes to the SRC regarding sexual misconduct, we would always refer them to our dedicated Advice Centre team. These experienced and professional advisers provide completely confidential support, and can assist students with reporting student misconduct to the University and the Senate Office.

“As part of the SRC’s drive to address and bring attention to the issue of sexual misconduct on campus, we have been running Sexual Violence Prevention workshops called ‘Lets Talk’ in partnership with Rape Crisis Scotland over the last few years. Since it’s inception, we have trained over 1200+ students on campus, and I would highly recommend any student wanting to play a part in helping tackle sexual violence to take part in a session. These workshops allow students to develop their knowledge of the impacts of sexual violence, understand what consent means, find out how to build a supportive community for survivors, and also enables students to be effective at bystander intervention. We regularly run open sessions of ‘Lets talk’, and to find out when the next workshops are being held, you can email [email protected] for more information.”