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Students and staff call out University over lack of action on abuse and assault

Updated: Oct 31, 2021

“Rather than a zero-tolerance policy, it is more like a 100% tolerance policy”

By Anttoni James Numminen

University of Aberdeen Policy and Commitment

Members of the University community, including students, staff, and societies, have spoken out over the University of Aberdeen’s lack of action over cases of reported abuse and assault on campus.

The University has also been criticised for not updating its student code of practice since 2013, as well as failing to publish its Gender-Based Violence (GBV) policy, consultations for which began in 2020.

These cases include allegations of sexual assault and bullying. In one case, a student has said they reported being sexually assaulted on campus but that the University never shared the outcome of the investigation with them, while allowing the accused back on campus.

Several people have also spoken up online about alleged cases of assault on campus, some dating back several years.

In a statement to The Gaudie, a University of Aberdeen spokesperson said:

“The University provides a wide range of student support and counselling services to help our students. We are saddened to hear of any situation when a student feels they have not been adequately supported and always look to learn from such instances. We take all complaints of this nature extremely seriously and work alongside colleagues in Police Scotland to ensure proper processes are followed, and support is provided for our community. This can restrict our ability to comment publicly on individual cases.”

The University also said that next month it would be reviewing for approval its new “action plan”, said to cover student discipline and GBV policies while encouraging “anyone impacted by GBV to make use” of the confidential reporting tool or “to make contact with a member of our support teams for advice”.

Speaking to The Gaudie, a member of academic staff said they did not believe the changes were coming fast enough and could leave students at risk in the meantime.

The staff member spoke under conditions of anonymity as they feared doing so under their name could harm their career.

The member of staff has raised the University’s poor track record of upholding their “zero-tolerance approach to sexual violence and harassment” several times over the past years, saying that new initiatives were not enough as currently there are “rarely any consequence for the perpetrators”.

“Rather than a zero-tolerance policy, it is more like a 100% tolerance policy. Not only are students in danger of GBV, but they are in danger from the system that they report to. The confidential reporting tool, in my experience, does nothing, and I do not feel that I can, in good faith, refer students to it.”

CASE, a sexual consent and awareness group on campus, said it was “deeply horrified and saddened to hear about the experience of these students”, adding that “the university still does not take cases of sexual violence seriously enough”.

“We believe every student should be safe at university and every measure should be taken to make that possible. Clearly, this has not happened on several occasions, which is not acceptable.”

The student group added that despite the shortfalls, it did not “wish to attack the university” and “strives to work closely with the university and AUSA to create a safer space for all students.”

The Students’ Association (AUSA) Vice President for Welfare, Ivana Drdáková, echoed CASE’s remarks while urging the University to “review and improve the Code of Practice in Student Discipline as a matter of urgency”, stating: “We look forward to working with the University of Aberdeen to make this happen.”

Drdáková added that students who did not have confidence in “the way the University deals with concerns raised about sexual harassment or gender-based violence should get in touch with AUSA.”

Speaking to The Gaudie, former Rector of the University and Green Party MSP, Maggie Chapman, said she hoped the University would take such issues seriously and improve how they deal with similar complaints.

“Abuse of any sort must not be tolerated. On university campuses, the institutions have a duty of care for all members of the community. I am very sorry to hear that survivors have not been given information about complaints they have made. Survivors should always be believed and treated with dignity. And institutions must also take steps to ensure, as far as possible, the safety of others on campus.”

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