Birmingham University refused to look into student’s off-campus rape claim | Education
Birmingham University has refused to investigate student complaints of rape where the alleged assaults took place off campus, it has emerged.
A graduate told the Guardian she was left fearing for her safety after the university said it would not take disciplinary action against a male student who she alleged had raped her in her privately rented student accommodation.
In a letter to Alice (not her real name) in May, the university said it could not deal with allegations of misconduct unless it was said to have taken place “during a university-related activity or on university premises”.
“It didn’t feel like the university believed me,” Alice said. “It felt like they were blaming me because I brought [my alleged attacker] home.”
A former women’s officer at Birmingham Guild of Students said the university had also refused to investigate rape and sexual harassment complaints made by several other female students against male students in the last academic year because the incidents were alleged to have occurred off campus.
Alif Trevathan, who supported Alice during her complaint, said: “We were aware of six similar cases in the same year. Some had formally reported it or told a lecturer or a welfare tutor, and the response off the bat was ‘we can’t do anything for you’. Some took it further and still ended up with [nothing].”
Ciara Lally, a co-founder of Revolt Sexual Assault, which campaigns for reforms to how universities handle sexual violence, said: “We’ve heard from students who have been assaulted by their peers but in town or private accommodation that their university has deemed outside their scope. [And] even instances of students being raped in university accommodation that the university has judged to occur in the context of a private relationship and therefore out of university context and outside their remit.”
Alice said she was raped by a male student in December 2016 at her shared house in Selly Oak, a suburb a short walk from the university campus.
She said: “I’m pretty sure I wasn’t conscious when it started. I woke up with him on top of me. I was like ‘no, get off’. I don’t know what he was thinking, it just carried on. And from then on I was slipping in and out of consciousness. But I do remember crying.”
When she woke up later in the morning Alice said, she saw there was blood on her sheets. She alerted one of her female housemates by text who managed to get the male student out of the house.
Alice said she was in a state of shock after the alleged rape. “My grades really suffered. I didn’t realise how bad my mental health had got.”
With her finals approaching, Alice submitted a formal complaint on 8 April, worried that she might see her alleged attacker during the exams. But she said the complaints process proved almost as traumatising as the incident itself.
In its letter to Alice on 7 May, the university said it would not conduct a formal investigation because under its regulations “we can normally only deal with allegations of misconduct that occur during a university-related activity or on university premises”. The letter also cited the “significant amount of time that elapsed since the alleged misconduct” as another reason why only limited action could be taken.
The university said it could send the alleged perpetrator an advisory letter that set out its “expectations in respect of his future conduct” while he remained a student. But it said Alice’s anonymity could not be guaranteed because it might be necessary to give the male student her name if he requested it. Alice asked for the letter not to be sent.
Trevathan and another women’s officer met senior managers and legal advisers at the university in an attempt to get them to change the policy of not investigating student misconduct off campus.
Trevathan said: “They refused to acknowledge that victims were under their care, regardless of where precisely they were being assaulted. Which was most commonly in their student accommodation, something arguably intrinsic to their degree.”
A spokesman for Universities UK, which represents 136 higher education providers, said universities should follow its guidelines (PDF) and investigate rape complaints, whether the incident was alleged to have occurred on campus or not.
Andrea Simon, of the End Violence Against Women campaign, described Birmingham University’s stance on off-campus sexual assault claims as “a glaring gap in protection” that should be urgently addressed.
A Birmingham University spokesman said: “Our regulations cover areas over which the university has some control – where we can provide CCTV coverage, control access, where we have security staff, wardens or other colleagues to provide additional security. It also extends to areas anywhere in the world where the university has organised an event or activity, such as a field trip, [and] is able to review the safety of students and staff. It does not extend to private homes.
“Without the powers or specialist resources that come with a police investigation … we face a real problem of how we can fairly investigate an allegation that is several years old.”