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  • Writer's pictureLara

RTC Reviews Durham...Again

In December 2019, Durham released its annual paper on sexual misconduct. As the first UK university to appoint a “full-time dedicated specialist to address sexual violence” (pp.2-3), Durham has recieved praise for its commitment to tackling the issue. Recent incidents, however, show the university stilluniversityinstitution still has a long way to go.

Here are the main things I took away from the report.

Key facts:

  • 2014-2019 - 264 disclosures of sexual misconduct, 57 reports to the University and 92 made to the Police (p.3).

  • 2014-2019 - 99 disclosures of rape/ assault by penetration and 89 disclosures of sexual assault (pp.11-12).

  • Breakdown of disclosures - “15 incidents were reported to have occurred in 2014/15, 39 in 2015/16, 68 in 2016/17, 76 in 2017/18, and 64 in 2018/19” (p.9).

  • 2014-2019 - only 4% of disclosures at Durham related to staff (p.7).

  • 2017/18 - Durham created its Sexual Violence and Misconduct Policy and the SU set up a reporting tool, Pincident (pp2-3).

  • 2018/19 - procedure for allegations of staff sexual misconduct and Active Bystander Training programme launched (pp2-3).

  • 2018/19 - most reported forms of sexual misconduct were on Pincident were ‘wolf whistling, catcalling, or offensive sexual noises’ (42 reports). There were 22 reports of groping, 9 of rape and 8 of stalking (p.7).

  • 2019 SU report - “The most common reason for not reporting a sexual incident was ‘Nothing would be done if I made a complaint’, which was selected in 56.6% of reports” (p.7).

Although the report explicitly states it is not requesting funding, it does emphasise the “limitations of the current resources” (p.2). This echoes UUK’s 2019 findings, whereby universities who had dedicated long-term investment in fighting sexual misconduct did a better job in handling it.

Durham appears to have had multiple issues with its reporting and investigative processes in 2018/19. On page 6, the report stated that an internal error had caused the Disclosure Reporting Form to be temporarily removed from the website. Additionally, not all staff were aware of the full procedure. Only one academic department has made staff attendance at the Level 1 SMV: Awareness and Disclosure Training compulsory (p.6). As for investigations, some were delayed due to heavy workload for investigators (p.7). Clearly, there is work to be done. The University intends to employ two more investigators to help with cases. The fact that the University has flagged up the error hopefully means that staff will be more alert.

To me, the number of incidents reported seems quite high. It could indicate that students feel comfortable reporting and that they know and trust the system, or there is an epidemic of sexual violence. Similarly, Durham reports an increase in FOI requests over recent years (p.8). It would be interesting to know if this is true for other institutions, or if Durham simply has a bigger sexual violence issue.

Another key point is that Durham breaks down its figures by demographic. This isn’t something I’ve seen other universities automatically do. From October 2014 to September 2019, there were 230 female Reporting Parties and 6 Responding Parties. For men, these figures are 25 and 241 respectively. Anonymous students constituted a tiny number of students and there were no reported cases involving trans or non-binary students (pp.9-10). Additionally, Durham launched a new Report and Support tool in 2019, which will gather data on “sexual orientation, race, ethnicity and nationality.” I havehaven’t heard of nowhere anywhere else doing this.

For some types of abuse (image-based sexual assault), there isn’t a clear pattern. For most others, numbers increase year-by-year, perhaps as students become more aware of the reporting system (pp.11-12). [It’s important to say here that the University distinguishes between disclosing and reporting. The former is informal; the latter instigates the start of the disciplinary process.]

To finish, let’s talk about sanctions. In every single year from 2014-2019, more students report to the Police than the University. Why? Is that because the University cannot legally punish students from committing crimes or is there more trust in the Police? The University itself can impose a range of sanctions, ranging from a formal reprimand to exclusion (pp.12-14). As Durham doesn’t give exact figures for years with less than 5 cases, it’s hard to tell which sanction is the most common. For confidentiality reasons, the University can’t be more precise. That said, I’d be curious to know how many perpetrators get away with it, and continue to share classes with their victims.

All in all, this is the most comprehensive breakdown of sexual misconduct incidents that I’ve come across from a university. I also respect Durham’s transparency (other unis take note), but for me, this report raises more questions than it answers.

Why do people tend to go to the Police more than the University? Although other reports indicate that women tend to experience sexual assault more than men, why is there such a big difference in reporting figures for the two genders? Do men not feel as comfortable reporting? What could Durham (and wider society) do to change that? Do these figures imply that Durham is worse than any other university? Or do they suggest that Durham is more open about its problems?

How safe do students really feel at Durham?

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