CW: Mentions of sexual abuse, harassment, and grooming.
As part of their “Degrees of Abuse” investigation, Al Jazeera reveals that senior lecturer in geography, Dr Ian Shaw, has been the subject of sexual harassment complaints by four different women.
An investigation by Al Jazeera, as part of their “Degrees of Abuse” series, has reported sexual misconduct and grooming perpetrated by Dr Ian Shaw, former lecturer in geography, at the University of Glasgow. Between 2018 and 2020, the senior lecturer in geography has been the subject of accusations submitted to the university by four different women, ranging from undergraduate and PhD students to a junior lecturer. The majority of the women describe similar patterns of abuse and grooming, beginning as intellectual, then emotional, and ultimately, sexual manipulation.
Dr Shaw was alleged to draw on shared academic interests, such as climate activism and women’s rights, to hold individual meetings in his office “where the door was always closed, and occasionally locked as well, to ensure privacy”. Conversations were then reported to stray from academic concerns to issues regarding his marital problems and mental health. Dr Shaw was also said to have encouraged students to confide in him about their financial, personal and emotional concerns, creating a sense of emotional intimacy and dependency.
“Dr Shaw was also said to have encouraged students to confide in him about their financial, personal and emotional concerns…”
Second-year student at the time, Tayler, and the youngest of the women, recalled crying in his office on numerous occasions and described how Dr Shaw “always had a box of tissues”. However, his caring attitude quickly began to feel “sinister” with the power dynamic between them placing him “in control”. Similarly, Hannah, a PhD student, described these private meetings as making her feel “kind of dirty”. She said: “I felt humiliated by it and simultaneously like I had to do it.”
As evidenced by these testimonies, Dr Shaw’s private office became the dominant setting for the grooming of students. Hannah “felt like a sexualised object in that room, [and] had to play that role in order to succeed”. Courtney, an undergraduate student at the time, continued: “I had male friends who had him as their supervisor as well; they though his treatment of female students was completely different. They thought he was a bit creepy. I think trust was a big thing; they were like: ‘We don’t trust him.’ They were always telling their female friends that were taught by him: ‘Just be careful.'”
Off-campus, former student and climate activist, Lauren was contacted by Dr Shaw regarding their shared environmental interests after leaving the University. She described how she felt propositioned by the lecturer when he told her that he was no longer sexually attracted to his wife and wanted to explore polyamory. Additionally, Esther, who completed her PhD at another university, met Dr Shaw at a conference, after which he suggested she move to Glasgow so that he could become her mentor. He also offered to assist her with the application process – against University policy – and once again, the relationship crossed the boundary from academic support into more unsettling behaviour. Esther describes receiving unsolicited suggestive images from Dr Shaw featuring his clothed crotch, as well as disturbing text messages: “You were in my head and dreams yesterday.” Another PhD student, Hannah, recalls a similar experience of being asked by Dr Shaw at a departmental Christmas party at the University in 2015 “to describe the smell of semen”.
“She described how she felt propositioned by the lecturer when he told her that he was no longer sexually attracted to his wife and wanted to explore polyamory.”
Emma, a former junior lecturer in geography at the University of Glasgow, also reported Dr Shaw for harassment and bullying. Dr Shaw was reported to have divulged intimate details about himself to Emma, and he is alleged to have pushed her relationship crossed professional boundaries. When the fallout of Emma’s trying to distance herself from Shaw caused her exclusion from a research field trip, she complained. Following Emma’s submission of a complaint against him, the lecturer then raised a counter-complaint against her. Dr Shaw was found at fault for unfairly excluding her from the research but was not found guilty of harassment. Instead, the University concluded that she had harassed him. Recounting the traumatic nature of the complaints procedure, Emma tearfully remarked: “I was absolutely destroyed. I was just destroyed because of the outcome; it just looked like they didn’t even read the evidence that I put in.”
Dr Shaw did not face any consequences as a result of the accusations and left of his own volition to take an Associate Professorship at Leeds University in 2020. Due to data protection laws, Leeds University would not have been aware of the allegations against him. He denies all allegations of sexual harassment, grooming and misconduct, claiming that they form “part of a campaign of bullying and abuse” against him. The University of Glasgow told Al Jazeera that it was “unable to comment on individual cases” and “takes all claims of sexual abuse seriously”.
A University of Glasgow spokesperson told The Glasgow Guardian: “While the University of Glasgow is unable to comment on individual cases, we take all allegations of sexual misconduct or harassment extremely seriously. The wellbeing of everyone in our University community is our top priority and we work hard to ensure the safety and security of our students and colleagues on our campuses. Any form of harassment is totally unacceptable within and across our community, and any alleged issues of this kind are fully investigated and, where founded, acted upon in accordance with the University’s disciplinary procedures.
“We are also continuously improving our processes to ensure better support for survivors, and to make it as easy as possible for our colleagues and students to access support when they need it. We are providing numerous mechanisms through which we are enhancing training and development for leaders and line managers involved in investigating and supporting individuals, both students and colleagues, with regards to harassment or misconduct.”
Al Jazeera’s Degrees of Abuse podcast series has shed light on instances of sexual abuse experienced in higher education institutions, highlighting how British universities have failed survivors with processes that “are there to protect the institutions and not the victim”. As the series’ third and fourth episodes, the University of Glasgow investigations form part of two years of investigations that sent freedom of information requests to over 160 UK universities and collected testimonies from numerous students and staff. The series is ongoing and can be followed on Twitter and Spotify. If you have experienced any of the issues mentioned above, support can be found here.
If you have had a similar experience at the University of Glasgow and would like to share your story anonymously or otherwise, get in touch at [email protected], or contact us via our social media.