Newcastle University faces student backlash over stalker’s return | Education
Newcastle University is facing a growing backlash from students over its decision to allow a convicted stalker to continue his studies despite the objections of his victim.
A petition calling on the university to remove anyone convicted of stalking from campus has attracted more than 1,200 signatures.
The protest comes after Amy, whose name has been changed to protect her identity, asked the university to bar Jefferson Young after his conviction last year for stalking and revenge porn.
The student said she reported Young, her ex-boyfriend, to the police and the university after he bombarded her with unwanted and abusive emails and voicemails, and sent an explicit video of her to her new partner.
Magistrates imposed a 12-month community order and a restraining order on Young, then 21, banning him from contacting Amy or going to the immediate area she lives in.
After the verdict, Amy was called to attend a university disciplinary hearing into Young’s behaviour, in which she said she was asked to provide evidence of offences that he had pleaded guilty to in court.
She said she was devastated when the university allowed him to continue his degree and made both of them sign an agreement not to contact one another.
She said: “It was just devastating. It took me so long to talk to the police because I kept telling myself it was my fault. And the university’s decision made me feel worthless, like my safety wasn’t important at all. It felt as though they couldn’t see the harm of the emotional abuse.”
She said she would sit on the end of the row in lectures in case she felt the need to flee for her safety. “It was a fight or flight response,” she added. “I felt claustrophobic whenever I was on campus.”
Amy expected her ordeal would be over when Young graduated last summer. But in September she discovered he was returning to study at Newcastle for another year on a postgraduate course.
She said Young’s behaviour towards her before his conviction continued to cause her considerable anxiety: “It’s making me feel a lot more scared than I was last year because the restraining order finishes in October 2020.”
When she sent an email to the vice-chancellor, Prof Chris Day, demanding an explanation, he mistakenly copied her father into a reply to staff in which he raised concern that the situation could damage the university’s reputation.
In the email, revealed by the Tab student news website, Day wrote: “On the face of it this looks another ‘Warwick’ about to happen on our own campus with the associated risk for the student and our precarious reputation.”
The University of Warwick was embroiled in a scandal over a group rape chat in 2018 after female students discovered they had been the subject of violent sexual comments exchanged among a group of male undergraduates. There was a public outcry when the university ruled that two of the men, who had initially been banned from the campus for 10 years, would be allowed to return within months.
Amy said she and her parents were shocked by the email: “In our opinion, this should have been a lot more clear cut than Warwick because [Young] was convicted.”
Dr Rachel Fenton, a senior law lecturer at Exeter University, said Newcastle’s handling of the case was completely wrong.
“It’s completely inappropriate for him to come back as a postgrad after he’s been found guilty of stalking and revenge porn. He should have been expelled and not allowed to come back. Him being around is causing massive detriment to her [and] to her mental health.”
Fenton, an adviser to Universities UK’s taskforce on tackling sexual violence, added: “[Amy] shouldn’t have even needed to give evidence to the university because [his offences have] been proven beyond reasonable doubt in a criminal court.”
A Newcastle University spokeswoman said it could not comment on individual cases but worked hard to ensure students felt safe on campus.
She added: “We are aware of the petition and this week the vice-chancellor met with the students’ union and has agreed to launch a review of our student complaints and disciplinary procedures working with students and their elected officers.”