Nearly half of reports of sexual misconduct in south west London universities result in no action

Nearly half of people accused of sexual misconduct in south west London universities face no repercussions, freedom of information requests sent by SWL show.

The requests were sent to Westminster University, Roehampton University, St Mary’s, Kingston University, and Imperial College for the number of cases of sexual misconduct (sexual harassment, sexual assault and rape) at the universities in the past five years.

The responses showed that, on average, 46% of cases reported do not result in any kind of disciplinary action.

Disciplinary action can mean temporary action while the claim is investigated such as a suspension or ban from entering parts of campus labelled as ‘safe spaces’ for the alleged victim while investigation is underway, or permanent action ranging from a ‘slap on the wrist’ verbal warning to expulsion.

Each university responded with exact figures for each of the last five years, except Imperial which said 12 cases were reported in the 5 year period and all were investigated fully.

A representative from Imperial College Union said the College should be more transparent with the way it handles such information to encourage more people to report and to better understand the scope of the problem.

On the discrepancy between the number of cases reported and those resulting in disciplinary action, Imperial College Union’s deputy president (welfare) Nathalie Podder said: “Sadly I’m not too surprised by it.”

“But considering that the rate of false reporting is only 2-10%, the fact that almost half of accused students at southwest London unis don’t face any repercussions means that a large percentage of real perpetrators never face any consequences.

“This is unsafe for both the complainants and other students at that university.”

The Union and College are working together to improve support by improving the transparency of the ‘Report and Support’ system and safeguarding available to alleged victims.

St Mary’s saw the highest proportion of reported cases result in disciplinary action at 100% while Kingston saw the lowest at 37%.

However, the number of cases reported at St Mary’s was much lower at only 3 reported directly to the university compared to 17 at Westminster, 28 at Roehampton, 12 at Imperial and 27 at Kingston.

In proportion to the student populations as published on the universities’ websites, Roehampton saw the most reports with approximately one in every 446 students reporting and St Mary’s saw the least with approximately one in every 1,840 reporting.

Ahmed El Hana President of Student Life at St Mary’s said the university and union have been working on a Report and Support system to encourage more survivors of sexual misconduct to report it.

He said: “We hope that by allowing students to disclose information anonymously, we will gain more insight on the incidents that take place within our community so that we’re better placed to tackle issues and work to change the culture if necessary.”

The proportion of cases resulting in disciplinary action has increased over the last few years from around 33% 2017-18 to around 66% in 2020-2021.

The increased focus on stopping sexual misconduct and ensuring perpetrators face repercussions through programmes like Report and Support is likely to push the proportion higher in the coming years.

A spokesperson from Westminster said: “Eliminating incidences of harassment and sexual misconduct is a priority for our University. So too is creating an environment where, if incidents do occur, students and colleagues alike feel safe and able to report them and are in control of how reports are subsequently handled.”

They added that the university was the first to implement the Green Dot bystander training programme and this year introduced a ‘Report and Support’ system.

They said they take complaints of this type very seriously and have recently introduced dedicated and specialist Sexual Violence Liason Officers to provide support for students.

A spokesperson from Roehampton said: “We strongly condemn any act of sexual misconduct and are committed to providing a learning and working environment which is safe and inclusive for all members of our community. We have robust policies and procedures in place to deal with any allegations in a sensitive and timely manner.”

They said the statistics refer to don’t necessarily show the whole picture as there are a number of reasons no action may be taken such as a lack of evidence or removal of complaint.

The university said they encourage everyone to alert them to any case of unacceptable behaviour to which they’ll take immediate action and that there are a number of ways to do this such as the anonymous ‘Report and Support’ tool.

A spokesperson from Kingston said: “The University is committed to ensuring all its students and staff are treated with dignity and respect and are able to learn and work in a safe, supportive environment. 

“While respecting individuals’ rights to make their own choices in their personal lives, the University has a range of measures in place to ensure all members of its community abide by its values and the high standards of behaviour expected of them.”

They added that the University has a robust framework in place to ensure fairness and transparency are upheld complaints of this nature are handled very seriously. They said a wide range of support is available to students through the wellbeing service and harassment contact scheme.

All universities that received SWL’s FOI requests were contacted for comment.

Featured image from Unsplash

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