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‘Degrees of Abuse’ investigation reports fourteen sexual misconduct cases at UoA

The report published by Al Jazeera summarises the complaints of 125 UK universities within the years 2017 and 2020

by Mireia Jimenez

An investigative report was published two weeks ago by Al Jazeera summarising all sexual misconduct complaints made by staff and students within UK higher institutions.

The information was obtained by the Al Jazeera Investigative Unit by sending 164 Freedom of Information (FOI) requests.

The University of Aberdeen response to the FOI request revealed that a total of fourteen sexual misconduct cases were reported between 2017 and 2020

The University provided vague details about the nature of the complaints, saying that “less than five were dismissed or led to expulsion/suspension”.

Student complaints about sexual misconduct, including sexual harassment were described by the University as “Less than five” in each one of the years 2017/18, 2018/19 and 2019/20.

Regarding complaints where the respondent was a staff member, “less than five” were received from 1st August 2017.

The University also stated that “All student cases were investigated internally. All staff cases were dealt with under the university’s Disciplinary Policy and proceeded to an internal hearing.”

When asked about dates from the internal hearings and their outcomes, the university stated that “Due to the low numbers of reports, we are unable to provide dates of the internal hearings as this may lead to identification”.

When asked about the (redacted) content and outcome of the hearings, the University withheld such information under the exception for personal data in the FOI (Scotland) Act section 38(1)(b).

A university spokesperson said to The Gaudie:

“When a disclosure is made, we apply relevant policies when taking forward allegations of misconduct. Depending on the circumstances and the wishes of the victim, allegations of sexual misconduct can be taken forward under our Code of Practice on Student Discipline (non-academic) and the University’s Disciplinary or Grievance policies for staff.”

“We will also be looking at how our recent work supporting a training pilot with Rape Crisis can be further explored at the University and any possible enhancements to our already robust risk assessment process when supporting disclosures within our own community.”

On the other hand, CASE Aberdeen openly criticised universities’ approach when dealing with reports over sexual misconduct:

“We are finding that the language used by universities when approaching the subject of consent can be problematic. The emphasis of responsibility is often placed on the individual to either consent to or not consent to said sexual activity, however, not much more is spoken about measures the university takes to identify and prevent predatory behaviour. This creates a culture of blame in which the survivors are left feeling as though they should have spoken up which creates a very narrow definition of ‘consent’ as just a verbal exchange.

Overall, we believe that the university puts too much focus on reporting these incidents rather than preventing them. We firmly believe that proactive, rather than only reactive, measures must be taken by universities across the UK as a matter of urgency.”

“How will the ‘complaint’ be processed and what does it mean for something to be internally investigated? What services will the university be providing to make sure the person reporting the incident is emotionally supported? What will the university do to make sure that the person feels safe on campus? These questions are vital to a person who is reporting sexual misconduct and they should be allowed a level of transparency from the University. The internal investigation process and the lack of transparency can lead students to feel like the “complaints systems are stacked against them” as the article states. “

Ivana Drdáková, AUSA Vice President for Welfare said:

“The University needs to make sure that anyone who reports any incidents, is confident that they can receive the support they deserve. We are looking forward to continuing our work with the university to improve their procedures and to ensure the reporting process supports anyone affected by violence.”


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