Degrees of Abuse

CONTENT WARNING

This investigation deals with topics such as sexual assault, grooming, stalking, physical violence, and harassment




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Some of the world’s most elite universities are failing to protect their students when it comes to sexual misconduct by staff or other students.


Al Jazeera’s Investigative Unit has spent two years examining how British universities, including Oxford, Cambridge, Glasgow, and Warwick deal with complaints of sexual harassment, sexist, drunken behaviour, and coercive control.


A series of podcasts and videos reveal why students say university complaints systems are stacked against them and how sexual misconduct by university staff and students has extensively affected the lives of women in academia.


Multiple complaints against the same abuser are regularly not heard together so individual complaints are dismissed as he-said-she said. Complaints take months, even years to be heard.


Al Jazeera sent 164 freedom of information requests to every university across the UK, requesting data on the total sexual misconduct complaints made against both students and staff members between 2017 and 2020, how many of these complaints were fully investigated and how many led to an outcome for the complainant.


The personal stories featured in the podcasts and videos, combined with the trove of documents obtained through the freedom of information requests, reveal a hard to navigate system that to many students is bewildering and traumatic.





Podcasts


The World Renowned Oxford Don

He’s a famous professor at Oxford, one of the world’s most prestigious universities. But across three decades and three institutions, women have described him as a sexual predator.


Episode 1




The Oxford Historian

He’s a leading academic at the University of Oxford. His expertise is in times gone by. Both students and other lecturers say his drunken and abusive behaviour is also a throw back and he’s unfit to teach.


Episode 2






Crossing professional boundaries

Six women describe the behaviour of a lecturer who taught at Glasgow University. They say he broke the acceptable boundaries of a professional teaching relationship.


Episode 3


Why complaints fail

In the second part of the story, the women describe what happened when they complained about the lecturer and the outcome, which one woman says could have ended her academic career


Episode 4






'He had deliberately obscured who he was'

The PhD student at Glasgow University was charismatic and charming and part of his appeal was his tragic past. But his relationships with several women became violent and controlling. As our investigation dug deeper into his history in his home country, we uncovered his lies and the real story of his murdered wife..


Episode 5


‘He lies to avoid accountability’

More incredible revelations about how a PhD student at Glasgow University lied about his dead wife and falsely accused innocent people of killing her. Question is, why has it taken almost four years for Glasgow University to investigate multiple complaints about him?


Episode 6






Videos

Harriet’s Oxford Story

When an Oxford PhD student, Harriet, complained that she’d been sexually assaulted by a fellow student, she expected Balliol College to investigate.


However, Harriet then discovered Balliol is one of several colleges at Oxford University to have a clause in their policy which means they don’t have to investigate her complaint. Harriet also claims the college put the emphasis on her behaviour, not the student she says assaulted her.






Millie's Warwick Story

When Millie started at Warwick University, she chose to live in a mixed flat. But a series of incidents with a flatmate led to Millie filing a complaint about him.


After a long investigation and a conduct committee meeting, Millie’s complaint was dismissed because it came down to one person’s word against another. Millie says her case shows some men still don’t understand what consent to sex really means.








Freedom of Information Requests





As part of Degrees of Abuse, Al Jazeera’s Investigative Unit created a database with summaries and the original documents sent by 125 universities in response to Al Jazeera’s Freedom of Information Requests.


The documents expose the broader scale of just how few complaints result in any action being taken, especially for students.


In total, 125 out of 164 universities responded to Al Jazeera's request for information, revealing 1,403 student sexual misconduct complaints were reported over the period 2017-2020.


The documents show only 487 out of 1,403 of all student sexual misconduct complaints were investigated.


Out of those that were investigated, 309 led to no further action by the university.


That means that about 83 percent of university students' complaints of sexual misconduct did not result in disciplinary action of any kind for the respondent.


The documents also show only 35 out of 252 of sexual misconduct complaints against staff were investigated.


In several cases where the victim filed an official police report, universities said they intended to do a full investigation pending the result of the police inquiry. However, most complaints that were dropped by the police were then not investigated by the universities.


Although many universities claim they can investigate even if police cases are dropped, some universities such as Oxford University have policies that claim if a student doesn’t report to the police, they have no obligation to investigate.



Select a university


Total number of reported complaints


1,654


Help lines


If you believe you are suffering from sexual abuse, misconduct, grooming, domestic violence or any other traumatic experience, the following organisations provide support to anyone wanting to talk about their experiences.



UK

Rape Crisis


Helpline: 0808-802-9999


Rape Crisis Scotland


Helpline: 08088-010302



Canada

Canadian Association of Sexual Assault Centres (CASAC)


CASAC website


Ending Violence


Ending Violence Canada


Sexual assault centres, crisis lines and support in every province



United States

Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN)


RAINN website


Helpline 800-656-4673



Australia

1800Respect


National sexual assault, domestic violence and family counselling service


1800Respect.org.au


Helpline 1800-737-732



International organisation

Wave Network


No More Directory


Hot Peaches


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