Majority of students accused of sexual assault face no consequences

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The vast majority of students accused of sexual violence at Durham University faced no disciplinary consequences between October 2014 and July 2019, data from the Sexual Misconduct and Violence Annual Trend Monitoring Paper (2019) has revealed.

Data from the paper shows that a total of 262 disclosures of sexual violence were reported during the five-year period, however only a maximum of 16 students and staff have been dismissed or expelled from Durham University as a result of an investigation. The paper also indicates that the majority of victims chose not to make formal disclosures against alleged perpetrators, with formal disclosures being required by the university to start the investigation process.

In the academic year 2018/19, 38 incidents of sexual violence were informally disclosed, compared to 17 formal disclosures of sexual misconduct of all categories. This includes non-violent sexual harassment, stalking and domestic abuse. Of the 17 formal disclosures, less than 5 resulted in expulsion or dismissal from the university. 

“There is no place here for individuals who are found to have committed acts of sexual misconduct or violence.”

-Jeremy Cook, University Pro-vice chancellor

The paper also suggests that male students are far more likely to commit acts of sexual violence than female students, with data from the five-year period of 2014/15 to 2018/19 indicating that men were 40 times more likely to breach the sexual misconduct policy than women.

The paper’s findings come after a pledge that Durham would become a “University community where survivors are supported while we strive to eliminate sexual violence” in 2015/16. Despite this, investigations of sexual misconduct during the 2018/19 academic year took an average of 120 days, with 5 out of 17 formal reports being withdrawn by the reporting party.

 In a Durham Student Union report on the impact of the Pincident campaign (A campaign allowing users to informally report abuse via Durham Student Union’s website), the biggest reason for victims choosing not to formally report sexual misconduct was feeling like “nothing would be done if they made a complaint”. This reason was a factor for 56% of students choosing not to formally report to the university after making a report on Pincident.

The data also indicates that breaches of the sexual misconduct policy occur most frequently between undergraduate students. Only 51 out of 257 alleged perpetrators of sexual misconduct over the five-year period were staff or those not affiliated with the university. More serious breaches of the policy were more likely to be reported to the university. 99 incidents of assault by penetration and 89 incidents of sexual assault were formally reported over the five-year period, indicating a possible underreporting of less severe breaches of the university’s sexual misconduct policy. 

In response to Palatinate’s investigation into the paper, Jeremy Cook, Pro-Vice Chancellor (Colleges and Student Experience) at Durham University, said: “Durham University is a safe place to live, work and study, and we are working tirelessly, including with our students and student leaders, to make it even more so.

“There is no place here for individuals who are found to have committed acts of sexual misconduct or violence. When students disclose or report instances of sexual misconduct or violence to us, we are committed to providing comprehensive support, investigating promptly and taking decisive action.

“Our approach has seen an increase in cases reported to us, but we see this as our community growing in confidence that we will act appropriately in response to such reports.”

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