Credit: GG Deputy Photography and Illustrations Manager Dorota Dziki (@drawing_dorota)

Glasgow University is failing sexual assault survivors

By Lucy Dunn

Sexual assaults on campus appear not to be taken seriously by University.

Content Warning: Sexual assault 

A number of sexual assaults have taken place on Glasgow University campus over the last few years, and a Glasgow Guardian investigation has found the survivors feel there has been a complete lack of support on the part of the University. The Glasgow Guardian has spoken to a number of women who feel that they have ended up worse off after coming forward about their sexual assault on campus, with students being forced to resit academic years and staff members threatened with dismissal. 

We spoke to one student, Charlotte*, who was assaulted on campus, at the heart of the University, in her first year of study. She described how she had initially been apprehensive talking to anyone about it, but realised she had to after her resulting fear about being on campus caused her attendance to suffer: “I just couldn’t be on campus anymore, especially when it was getting so much darker. My boyfriend had to pick me up after classes when I was in, even though I only live 10 minutes away.”

Going first to her advisor of studies, Charlotte was told that she would need to make a good cause claim in each of her three subjects. After sending off the claims, she received approval from two of her classes, but not her third, which required “further evidence” if she was to have her claim approved. “The incident happened a few months before, and I hadn’t gone to the police at the time because I just didn’t want to talk about it – so I didn’t have any evidence.” The department wasn’t satisfied with Charlotte’s account of events and told her that to move forward without facing consequences for her poor attendance, she would have to go to “University support sessions, as a form of evidence”, where her attending of these would make up for her missed academic classes. She said that she had already spoken to a professional that she knew personally, however she felt uneasy discussing her experience with University staff: “I didn’t feel comfortable going to someone that I don’t know to talk about something that I didn’t want to talk about.” After sending a letter to her subject lead in the particular class that had not accepted her good cause claim, further detailing her situation, Charlotte said that whilst her advisor of studies was sympathetic, the head of her department was “abrupt”, telling her that she had “provided more details than I would care for”.

As a result, and despite passing all of her first year classes, “getting 80%, 90%”, Charlotte was told that as she did not have “formal written evidence”, her good cause would not be accepted, “and so they failed me for that year”. She had to contact SAAS, forfeiting the fifth year of funding available for Scottish students: “I had wanted to do a postgraduate course, but now I’m not able to as that money is being used for this repeat year. I’m now out of pocket after not having done anything wrong.”

The Glasgow Guardian asked her whether, at any point, she had been offered support for the traumatic experience she had suffered during her interactions with the University. She responded: “No, not all.” She said that they hadn’t even attempted to look further into the details of her case: “They didn’t ask for the time or the place. Honestly, I feel like their attitude was “right, that’s another one”; like I was just another tally.” She felt as though the University were more concerned with the issue of her attendance than the case of yet another sexual assault occurring on campus. 

Charlotte’s is just one of a number of similar interactions that The Glasgow Guardian has been informed of. One such report includes a postgraduate student who had been sexually assaulted on campus a few years prior. She told us that when she had gone to the University to report the incident, she was told “not to play the mental health card”, a line previously iterated to another student, as detailed in our Murano 12 article, and told us that the University threatened to remove her from her degree programme if she took her story “to the press”. 

This issue appears to have been an ongoing issue as previous year’s Editor-in-Chief of The Glasgow Guardian, Bethany Woodhead, wrote in a Glasgow Guardian editorial republished in The Sunday Times last summer: “I have the power of words behind me and the ability to get a message out to thousands at the click of a button. Yet I have spent months going around and around in circles, exasperated and drained because we legally cannot publish knowledge we have on certain individuals at the University because of the bureaucratic mess that encumbers vital information and stories to be shared.

“I have had to watch the fear on the faces of many survivors who are forced to confront their abusers every day. Why is it that hundreds of students on campus were aware of who to stay away from, yet the university has been completely silent?”

The reporting of sexual assaults at the University has been described by students and staff as being “unreliable” and “inconsistent”. Charlotte herself had been reluctant to make a formal complaint: “I hadn’t particularly wanted to go to the University and tell them what had happened purely because I’d heard from other people that it hadn’t been handled well.” 

Despite the University senate discussing the issue of gender-based violence on campus during a number of meetings, most of those reached out to by The Glasgow Guardian have been of the resounding opinion that the University “doesn’t care”. On speaking to Aamer Anwar, previous Rector, he emphasised: “There is institutionalised misogyny and sexism within the University. I’ve spoken to students and I’ve spoken to staff over the years: it’s not good enough, we’re not moving at a fast enough pace.” 

Following the recent tragic disappearance and murder of Sarah Everard, and the recent petition to improve lighting on Kelvin Way, Anwar commented: “We’re still in the same position about lighting on Kelvin Way: I brought up that issue about a year and a half ago.

“What has happened in all that time? Do we need to have a murder; do we need to have another rape? Do we need to have more sexual assaults before somebody will actually listen? #MeToo started a number of years ago… How many wake up calls does this university need?”

The article was updated to include the following statement from a University of Glasgow spokesperson:

“Harassment of any kind is not tolerated at the University; the safety and security of our students and staff is our top priority. Confidential advice and personal support is available to any member of our community who has been affected by sexual violence or assault.

“We have online reporting which allows students to report instances of harassment and gender based violence either in name or in person – a trained staff member always responds when students make a submission in name.

“The form of support then provided is always tailored to the needs and preferences of the individual student. It can involve assistance with making a report to the police, application of the Student Code of Conduct, support from external bodies such as Rape Crisis Scotland, support from the University’s Counselling and Psychological Services team, support from the SRC’s Advice Centre or other forms of support as appropriate. In addition to the online reporting, we have trained Respect Advisers and First Responders whom students can speak to on a completely confidential basis.”

If you have been affected by any of the issues mentioned, helplines are available at The Survivors Trust, Women’s Aid, or the Rape Crisis national freephone helpline on 0808 802 9999. 

If you would like to contact The Glasgow Guardian about your own experience relating to issues raised in this article, please email Lucy Dunn at [email protected]. All information is entirely confidential unless otherwise specified. 

*Name has been changed to protect anonymity. 


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