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King’s sexual abuse procedures left student ‘powerless, again’

Image Credits: @KCL_itstopshere twitter

Leaked e-mails reveal a student’s experience of reporting sexual abuse at King’s and the procedures that stood in their way.

Alex* is one of the 20% of King’s students who, according to a survey by the King’s Tab, have reportedly experienced sexual harassment in residences. They told Roar that their flatmate, John*, abused them over a period of 6 months between October 2019 and February 2020.

They filed an internal report in March, describing the following investigation as “retraumatising” due to the unequal sharing of information, lack of autonomy over continuation of their No Contact Agreement, and profound inaccuracy around King’s responsibilities to police.

The King’s investigation concluded in August, shortly before Alex had to return to the university. They have since deferred the year, with the intention to seek trauma therapy to recover from their experiences.

They told Roar that, “Whilst I understand that these procedures are tricky to navigate at the best of times…and I wouldn’t want to blame any individual for the adverse impact the internal investigation has had on me, King’s…have a long way to go before they can, in their words, say that ‘It Stops Here ’”.

They wanted to tell other students facing sexual abuse “to not let my experience completely put you off” making a report to the university. “Please make sure to advocate for yourself and, where possible, to get other people to advocate for you too. PS: always back up your Whatsapp chats.”KCL

*These are pseudonyms intended to protect these individuals’ identities for legal and ethical reasons.

Information sharing

Alex reported the assault through King’s Stage Two Misconduct process, which required them to disclose their identity to John. When questioned, their appeals officer explained that this was because “the student involved in the incident does have the right to be informed about the charge and respond.”

Alex says: “this was almost a deterrent for me, due to the nature of my relationship with John, which was very emotionally manipulative… Having all my details on show did not aid the recovery process”.

Two months later, they were asked to consent to sharing the evidence they collected, and were told that any information they wanted to redact from John could not be shown to the committee. This led Alex to feel they had to give consent so that the investigation would be well-informed, as though the process was “stacked” against them. They continued: “There was nowhere to hide. The prospect of knowing that everything would be shared with John made me feel unprotected and frankly unsafe again.”

Contrastingly, when Alex requested access to John’s evidence, they were told they would have to make a Subject Access Request to the university and wait for the Information Compliance Team to redact any parts of the recorded interview which did not “relate directly” to them.

Additionally, John’s information would “go in its entirety to the Committee” without automatically having to be shared with Alex. This is in line with guidance from the Office of the Independent Adjudicator (OIA) “so that they have the opportunity to respond, to understand the rationale behind any decision on the charges, and also the reason for any chosen penalty”.

However, the OIA remarks that “the framework is neither prescriptive nor mandatory and each provider is free to develop its own policy and procedures that are consistent with its academic regulations and broader context.

“Providers have a responsibility to approach complaints and academic appeals fairly, following processes that are easy for students to understand, while retaining a right to make decisions on the merits of any individual case.”

The officer also explained that these processes are designed also to comply with General Data Protection Regulations (GDPR) and that the Information Compliance Team specialises in ensuring compliance with these regulations. “It is a grey area when it comes to data relating to one individual and where it may relate to another”, they said.

However, Alex’s data did not go through this process. Only their consent was requested, passing GDPR requirements then leaving them to decide – without guidance or the legal expertise of the Information Compliance Team – what information could be omitted without damaging their case.

“The whole thing felt so obstructionist. It set off feelings that they were almost defending John’s right to privacy and not mine. I felt completely on my own when deciding how much I should include … I wasn’t afforded the same security as he was”.

Alex also told Roar that John made a false claim in his interview, and that had they not pushed to be told about the Subject Access Request procedure and made a request in time for it to return for the hearing, they would not have been able to draw the Committee’s attention to it.

“I was just blown away by this, to be honest – it was one thing after another.

“I only received the transcript of John’s initial meeting with the Officer shortly before the Hearing and was told that there was a chance that the Committee might not take on board any of my comments on this, as it may be too late to do so”.

Negotiation with police

At the beginning of the investigation, Alex was asked if they had reported the incident to the police, and told that King’s would have to “put their own investigation on hold“ until it concluded, “so as not to infer with or prejudice the proceedings.”

This policy is part of the G27.26 Misconduct regulation, which says “special provisions will apply and the College’s own misconduct investigations or proceedings may be delayed until such time as the police and/or courts have completed their investigations and proceedings”.

Despite making clear that the incident could constitute a criminal offence, at no point did the university offer to make a report on their behalf.

Undeterred by this, Alex made a police report anyway.

They were notified that the case was paused on May 18, and that it could resume on the July 23.

The officer said that it was not until July 2 that the Met confirmed that proceedings could continue, and that the hearing was organised “as promptly as was possible to avoid any further delays which could be distressing for both parties”.

However, they also disclosed that the police were only contacted a week before June 29, over a month after the case was initially paused.

Roar contacted the Metropolitan Police CMS independently to ask whether they deem such delays to be necessary. They said that, given that university investigations are separate from theirs, they saw no reason why they could not continue in tandem. This response came one day after the request was made.

Alex repeatedly informed the university of this, expressing anxiety that “the police investigation could potentially go on for years, especially in light of Covid-19”.

At this time, the Guardian reported that the UK courts system was experiencing a “two year high” backlog in outstanding cases due to the pandemic, which would have delayed the internal case even further had Alex not pushed for it to be resumed. The officer responded that “the university will not extend the length of the misconduct proceedings any longer than is necessary” which Alex did not take to be the case.

“The university did, in fact, seem to extend the length of the misconduct proceedings significantly longer than was necessary.

“Not only was such a delay immensely distressing for myself, it was undoubtedly awful for John, too. The agonising wait to find out whether you can remain a student can’t have been easy. In this respect, the university failed us both”.

Risk of penalisation through No Contact Agreements

Alex requested that their Appeals officer put a No Contact Agreement in place, which is intended to penalise an accused student for making direct or indirect contact with someone who has filed a report against them.

However, this agreement would apply equally to both parties, meaning that Alex too would be penalised if they broke it. Under King’s G27.43 Misconduct regulations, possible consequences ranged from a warning or fines to temporary exclusion, suspension, expulsion.

Worried that they would break it accidentally, they requested for it to be removed in late June, only to be told that they would not be allowed to do so for as long as the case was ongoing.

Despite the agreement being put in place at Alex’s request, the officer explained that the power to remove it laid with the Committee, saying “they may still consider it appropriate for the Agreement to remain in place” should John have remained at King’s.

Alex told Roar that this left them feeling “powerless, again. There is no comfort in knowing that you could face penalisation or even expulsion for breaking a contract that’s meant to be there to protect you.

“Eventually I just numbed myself off from everything surrounding the investigation, because nothing surprised me anymore”.

Roar contacted King’s with request for comment on November 13. The university said to expect a response by November 16, but no response was given by this time.

Roar warned King’s that, if no response was given by November 20, this article could fairly be published without its comment. It acknowledged this and failed to respond by this date as well.

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