Cambridge University changes tack on sexual assault guidelines

Tonicha Upham 1 August 2015

A major change to disciplinary policies at Cambridge University this week has seen the adoption of new guidelines regarding the investigating of sexual assault.

Previously, in line with other UK universities, Cambridge followed the guidelines laid out in the 1994 Zellick Report, which advised universities against investigating "serious" offences and proposed that disciplinary action should only be taken following relevant action by the police and courts. Changes to the University's disciplinary policy this week mean that harassment and sexual assault can now fall under the remit of the University and colleges.

Brooke Longhurst, who has worked in conjunction with university officials to ensure that these changes were made, has said of the impact of this policy alteration: "[Previously] the only recourse for students who had experienced sexual violence by another student was to attempt to go through a criminal procedure. However, the minority of cases that are not dropped by the police due to lack of evidence, take an average of two years to be completed." The updated policy will mean that the University can investigate allegations of assault and harassment.

A recent investigation by The Guardian into sexual harassment and assault at universities found that fewer than half of Russell Group universities monitored sexual violence adequately, with only one in six having published guidelines on the reporting of harassment and assault. There have recently been renewed calls for a more concerted effort to tackle the prevalence of sexual violence at universities.

Within Cambridge itself, a survey conducted by CUSU Women's Campaign last year reported that over three quarters of respondents had been harassed, and 30% assaulted. A letter written by the Women's Campaign early this year criticised the University's typical reaction to allegations of assault: "Students who have been sexually harassed turn to their colleges for support and find tutors who are untrained and out of their depth, senior staff who want to brush them under the rug."

CUSU's Women's Officer, Charlotte Chorley, has emphasised the importance of a movement towards a clearer, more comprehensive policy on the reporting of sexual assault: "From my perspective, this is, absolutely, crucially, imperatively important to the work that the Women's Campaign does this year. We have a really strong campaign initiative being run by Roberta Huldisch (Emmanuel) and Martha Perotto-Wills (King's) to look at college sexual harassment policies and ensure that every student feels safe. Some colleges don't have policies at all, and some colleges have shady policies which lack clarity and transparency meaning processes of reporting are incredibly unclear. There needs to be some sense of uniformity – because this really is a crisis. We can't keep having students being harassed and assaulted. It is simply not acceptable, and I'm really concerned that colleges seem to think that is."

This week has also seen the introduction of a set of recommendations by the Cambridge University Sports Committee regarding dignity for women. The recommendations include the implementation of consent workshops for athletes performing at a university level, codes of conduct, gender equality training for coaches and the appointment of a senior university official to the role of gender equality representative. These recommendations are to be trialled before being rolled out to all University sports clubs and societies.



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Comment | Hold your horses – one policy change doesn't mean we've won on sexual harassment