In the Media

Campus rape: breach of care (Counsel)

Georgina Calvert-Lee (GCL): Universities still have a long way to go. Since the mid-1990s they have been adhering to the ‘Zellick’ guidelines which seemed aimed at protecting universities and the accused, at the expense of the complainant. It urged universities to use a criminal standard of proof in its processes, and remarkably not to do anything if the complaint related to a criminal offence. The idea was that the police were better equipped to prosecute rape, but failed to acknowledge the practical difficulty of securing a rape conviction. This meant that students accused of rape, even by multiple complainants, could remain on campus without any precautionary measures in place to protect others. There was clamour for change from the National Union of Students and End Violence Against Women and other groups, and so more recently Universities UK and the Office of the Independent Adjudicator (OIA) have published new guidelines, urging for a fairer process: civil standard of proof, fair treatment of all. But the guidelines are broad brush and well-meaning universities struggle to adapt their old systems to comply. Meanwhile other universities just ignore them and continue to follow Zellick principles. University complaints processes still need reform and many are not fit for purpose, but there have been improvements: online reporting, sign-posting to support, student and staff consent workshops.

Charlotte Proudman (CP): Part of the problem is that educational institutions impose a confidentiality clause, and that’s one of the biggest issues. How are other women supposed to know about a particular case on campus or the disciplinary processes, and whether they work, when others are silenced?

GCL: Yes, this is a really important point. Some universities seem almost obsessed by confidentiality, even more so than other employers. Someone will go to them with an accusation and universities will tend to assume control and ownership of that information and only keep the complainant updated on their process on condition of strict confidentiality. Complainants are prohibited from even mentioning to colleagues that their complaint was upheld…”

Georgina Calvert-Lee leads McAllister Olivarius' UK employment and equality team.
Georgina Calvert-Lee leads McAllister Olivarius’ UK employment and equality team.