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‘I had no choice but to leave’: Ex-student failed by King’s sexual misconduct regulations for 3 years straight

Ex-student failed by King’s sexual misconduct regulations for 3 years straight
Photo by Katy Ereira via Wikimedia Commons. The image has been cropped.(Licence: [https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/])

An ex-student has shared how her three-and-a-half-year struggle with King’s misconduct regulations after reporting sexual abuse left her with “no choice” but to give up her place at the university.

A* is the second student to report being given inaccurate information regarding the university’s responsibility to the police, which resulted in her investigation being unnecessarily delayed.

A shared how she was told by other students that her alleged attacker, S*, could continue to access her accommodation through friends after the report was filed, that she did not feel well informed about the status of her investigation and was told that it could not be reopened despite – to her knowledge – not being heard by a committee, contrary to King’s G31 student complaints policy.

Furthermore, she found herself placed under threat of punishment from her No Contact Agreement, finding its wording to be “insulting” and “borderline incriminating” against her.

20% of respondents to a 2019 King’s Tab survey said that they suffered sexual harassment in King’s-owned halls of residents.

In comparison, according to a Freedom of Information Act request and HESA data, out of the 32,270 students enrolled at the university in 2017/18, only 4 instances of rape or sexual assault were formally reported to the university that year. Of these, 3 reached a Stage Two formal investigation and only 1 resulted in a suspension or expulsion.

A has completed her degree elsewhere and is living outside of the UK happily with a long-term partner but says that she “lost a great deal of academic opportunities, and potentially even a solid career, to make no mention of the personal trauma and psychological fallout of going through months of sexual abuse”.

While she hopes to leave her experiences “firmly in the past”, she says she hopes to see King’s reform its policies and “earnestly commit to seeing it through”.

King’s told Roar that, to this end, they recently established an oversight committee partnered with KCLSU, which “draws on expertise within and beyond the HE sector and recently recommended the university adopts a report and support system” to support survivors of sexual assault and harassment.

“At King’s we are committed to providing and promoting a positive, respectful, and inclusive environment, free from all forms of discrimination and harassment for all members of our communities…We always encourage anyone who has any concerns to report it, and to access support”, its statement said.

* “A” and “S” are pseudonyms to protect these individuals’ identities.

Staff conduct

First reporting the abuse in October 2017, A said she was initially discouraged from filing an official report by a member of King’s staff who “reminded” them of the “the potential negative consequences for my attacker…”

This delayed her in putting a report forward until the abuse worsened a month later. A said staff at this point were “very helpful” and called the police on her behalf.

Accommodation security

At this time, staff reportedly arranged for A to move rooms within the same halls of residence as S, informing her that, as he had been arrested, he would “no longer be able to access the building.”

However, she discovered later through housemates that, while S’s ID card had been suspended, he was still able to access the flat through friends.

In a Roar Survey run in March 2020, A’s old halls of residence were overwhelmingly rated as either “somewhat safe” or “very safe”, with only a few respondents saying it was easy for non-residents to enter without permission.

This survey, however, did not measure ease of access for students whose cards are deactivated but whose friends register them temporarily as guests.

A was reportedly told S would be treated “as a threat to the student community” and would likely be either expelled or suspended during the course of the police investigation.

She also said she was promised a choice of new accommodation reduced to the same rates as her halls at the time.

No Contact Agreement

The university reportedly offered to put a No Contact Agreement in place between A and S, which she accepted because she “presumed [it] was to protect me”.

However, it reportedly barred her from making any further allegations against him, “as though I was somehow the perpetrator of a crime against him, rather than the other way around.”

No Contact Agreements mandate that the student who requested it “do not contact” the other student “either directly or indirectly” before mentioning the accused party at all. After this, they explain that this rule “extends to [the accused party] as well (i.e. [they are] not permitted to contact you directly or indirectly)”.

These documents finish with, “should you breach the aforementioned conditions the university will consider these under the G27[.44] Misconduct Regulations”. No Contact Agreements do not appear to explicitly differentiate between who breaks them, exposing both parties to equal punitive action.

Roar made a Freedom of Information Act request to try and uncover how many students who have requested a No Contact Agreement have been punished under them. However, because “Student Conduct and Appeals do not explicitly record [this] information…” and to fulfil the request manually would extend beyond the university’s legal obligations, it was rejected.

Investigation delays

A told us that communications with the university “broke down” over the Christmas period, that she returned to find she would be staying in the same flat, and that S had not been suspended at all.

The G27.26 misconduct policy states that any investigation of misconduct that constitutes a criminal offence “may be delayed until … the police and/or courts have completed their investigations and proceedings.” As a result, A was expected to live within “close quarters” to S for 12-18 months.

However, as a representative from the Metropolitan police told Roar in reference to another investigation, that this policy is unnecessary. Because King’s internal and police investigations are separate, there is no reason why investigations cannot proceed at the same time as far as the police are concerned.

In spite of this, A waited for the police investigation to finish. She says the case concluded when “the police dropped the case instead of putting it to the CPS. I’ve been told they do this when there’s not enough evidence to bring a case forward.”

After this, she said heard no follow-up from the university regarding the internal investigation.

Financial disadvantage

At this point, A decided “it would be impossible for me to continue at KCL.” Describing herself as “financially destitute”, she told Roar she could not afford private mental healthcare and found that the NHS waiting lists at the time were one year-long.

To make matters worse, upon permanently moving home, A said that the university began to demand repayment for the January instalment of her student loan, as she had technically been overpaid for the term they could no longer attend.

This cost the last of her savings, leaving her to “battle against PTSD and OCD in full time employment in order to remain financially afloat”.

More recently, after another student who was reportedly assaulted by S got in touch with her, A was told that S had hired a legal representative “who I believe wrote to the university and managed to overrule their decisions”.

“I feel that the difference in our …financial circumstances worked in his favour” she told us, explaining that legal representation was inaccessible to her. “This factor ought to have been considered by KCL at the time.”

Case closed?

A’s family reportedly tried to “hush up” the assault, leaving her unable to challenge the university’s decision as she “could damage its reputation”.

“This was very hard to deal with, as it meant that I had no support or encouragement to stand up for my place at Kings”, she said.

A contacted Professor Evelyn Welch, Provost for Arts & Sciences, to ask for her student debt to be wiped and for the investigation to be reopened. While A told us that she received financial compensation, she was told that that reopening the investigation “was not KCL policy”.

However, according to the G31 Student Complaints Regulation, while the university says a complaint “should” be made no later than 3 months after a student becomes aware of an incident, complaints made after this deadline can be accepted “at the discretion of the Head of Student Conduct & Appeals (or nominee)”.

A 2015 study by Laura C. Wilson and Katherine E. Miller from University of Mary Washington in Fredericksburg, Virginia found that up to 60.4% of surveyed rape survivors were “unacknowledged”, refusing to call their experiences “rape” and thus not immediately reporting it to relevant authorities, despite fitting the legal definition.

They also found this percentage rose to 62.7% for participants at university, compared to 50.0% for those not at university.

Making change

While A was reportedly asked to meet with administrators to discuss improvements to the G27 policy, she declined the invitation because she “found the idea of returning to many of the same sites where I was assaulted was too harrowing a prospect”.

Roar contacted Professor Welch for comment. While refusing to disclose the specific information she gave to A, explaining that “we would never comment publicly on a specific case”, she put us in contact with the King’s Corporate Communications office to “provide … information about our overall approach and the work that we are currently undertaking around such matters”.

King’s issued this full statement shortly after:

“It would not be appropriate to comment on the details of any individual case.

At King’s we are committed to providing and promoting a positive, respectful and inclusive environment, free from all forms of discrimination and harassment for all members of our communities.

In addition to agreeing a new Community Charter, we recently established an oversight committee focussed on improving the policies, procedures and culture for preventing and addressing harassment and sexual misconduct.

Working in partnership with KCLSU, the group draws on expertise within and beyond the HE sector and recently recommended the university adopts a report and support system to ensure we continue to support our students and staff. We always encourage anyone who has any concerns to report it, and to access support.” 

News Editor at Roar News

News Editor; BA Liberal Arts, majoring in Politics

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