Exclusive: King’s boss vows to take national lead on sexual assault at uni – “we need your trust”

King's vice principal Evelyn Welch talking to Roar in Waterloo. Roar News / Johnny Tam

By Dulcie Lee, Olivia Jones and Delara Shakib

KING’S will launch a consultation into sexual assault, harassment and consent on campus after Roar approached managers with historic allegations involving a current King’s professor.

The university wants to lead nationally with a major campaign, education vice principal Evelyn Welch told the paper in an exclusive interview last week.

Welch said that the College will rely on trusted student groups to provide key insight: “You have something we don’t have which is that students trust you to tell their stories.”

The vice principal admitted that the College doesn’t understand the extent of sexual assault on campus: “We’re all agreed that we need to understand the size and scale of the problem.”

“I will be the first person to put my hand up,” Welch said, adding: “It’s our responsibility to create a culture in which people feel comfortable about telling us.”

‘Students have little faith’

“For the best will in the world, it’s apparent that I look like a figure of authority” she added, “I’m not going to first year students ringing me up to say ‘I’m distressed’ … But they will contact you.”

“King’s senior management can’t do this on their own. They need to work with the student body and the broader staff body,” she said.

“We will be working with KCLSU, with Roar and with the Women’s Officer to create a safe space for consultation with students and staff groups to hear their experiences in confidence.”

‘Warm embracing arms’

The College is also determined to play a larger role in creating a healthy culture of consent on a national stage in the UK, and to set it high on the agenda. “I’m absolutely happy to say that King’s will be at the forefront at this.”

“We want to put our foot down and absolutely make it clear that we will not tolerate sexual harassment and sexual assault,” Welch said.

“Culture change is really tough,” Welch said, “but culture change is more important than change in policies.”

‘Like telling a friend’

But Welch is aware that some students don’t see King’s as approachable: “It’s [about] finding some way [to make] King’s feels less impersonal … like it’s got a face and a name and a warm embracing set of arms that will look after you,” she said.

“Getting it right means that the formal mechanisms that the university has in place become like being able to tell a friend … they don’t feel frightening, they don’t feel alien to students and to staff as well.”

“If you wake up in the morning and you’ve been assaulted and you know exactly where to go and who to talk to, then that’s us getting it right,” she added.

If you want to participate in the consultation, email editor@roarnews.co.uk.

 

King’s: We are sorry for tutor’s drink spike email

A KING’S vice principal has apologised for a victim-blaming email sent to a student after she missed an exam when her drink was spiked.

The undergrad, who had only been at King’s for six weeks at the time, told her tutor by email that she had collapsed after her drink was spiked in a pub.

He replied: “Provided there is a small probability you are serious I am very worried,” adding: “It is far from being clear [sic] if an accident in a pub could serve as a good excuse for some people here.”

The email in full / Roar News

Roar took the anecdote to education vice principal Evelyn Welch, who said the response was inappropriate: “On behalf of King’s I apologise, I’m sorry that we have tutors who take that approach.”

“Obviously reporting something to the police feels quite challenging for a first year student, particularly starting with ‘I don’t believe you, you’re just trying to get out of your exam and this is better than the dog ate my first year essay’,” Welch said.

“The appropriate response would have been to contact the student personally, not via email, to ensure that we had appropriate counselling support.”

 

College prof’s harassing past

IN THE early 1990s, a King’s professor was accused of sexual harassment by a student.

The accusation was made while he was working at another university and he was employed by King’s before the case was closed.

Evelyn Welch said: “I would be recommending that the institution deals with it differently today” due to faster global communication.

The College would postpone the professor’s employment until the outcome of the case, and if found guilty, “they would not be a member of staff.”

He was judged to have sexually harassed a student by a jury in a civil lawsuit. Yet because the case was against the university rather than the professor, he was not tried, court documents obtained by Roar show.

No complaints have been made against him since.

If you’ve been sexually harassed or assaulted contact KCL Equalities Manager Debbie Epstein at debbie.epstein@kcl.ac.uk or for other advice contact Roar’s team on advice@roarnews.co.uk.

 

This article is a shortened version of what appeared in Roar’s February edition.

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