With the #Me Too movement the goalposts governing the interplay between adults has significantly changed. The movement has also increased the pressure on Universities to act, or be seen to be acting, when students raise concerns or allegations of sexual misconduct. I have seen a marked rise in the number of cases being reported to Universities and witnessed an increase in the number of students seeking legal advice.
The manner in which Universities deal with such cases varies hugely, I have seen some quite concerning investigations into student conduct by some Universities. What is important to remember here is that University Investigating Officers are not trained to undertake such sensitive and specialised investigations. Their lack of training and experience can often mean students cannot expect a fair and impartial process. The Disciplinary Panels set up to hear such cases also hugely lack experience in these highly emotive and controversial cases. They can make life-changing decisions and findings with next to little or no qualification. Furthermore, the burden of proof is not that of a criminal court, it is much lower and is on the balance of probabilities.
It is not just the accused that are being let down by the University investigation process, the victims too are suffering. A number report they have not been treated with sensitivity or care. When they turn to the University for help, some have reported they have been told there is little they can do. This is a system that is letting everyone down.
Let us not forget also the impact this has on a student’s academic progress, often times students are immediately suspended pending investigation. Such suspensions can last months which gravely impact students academically, socially and even their mental wellbeing. Equally we need to consider the pressures a poor investigation places on the victims too, the impact on them is substantial and can seep through into every aspect of their life. This is a highly complicated area and should not be left to academics to navigate.