The meeting of true minds - and bodies 3

June 5, 2008

I was surprised by the flippant tone and complacent content of the feature on sexual relationships between academic staff and their students.

The simple truth is that the asymmetries of power, age and status make such relationships inherently exploitative. We have learnt this in the National Health Service, where sexual relationships between health professionals and their patients are not allowed. The reasons were well documented by the recent Kerr-Haslam inquiry (which is available at www.official-documents.gov.uk/document/cm66/6640/6640.pdf) into two psychiatrists in north Yorkshire who sexually abused female patients for more than 20 years, often in the name of therapy. Repeated complaints from their vulnerable victims were dismissed or ignored, and the abuse did immense and lasting harm. I would be surprised if academia didn't have its Kerrs or Haslams, who would only be encouraged by the tone and content of your feature.

The Council for Healthcare Regulatory Excellence published a robust review of the empirical evidence on sexual boundary violations and the ethical issues they raise, and it has produced guidance that has been adopted by the Department of Health (see www.chre.org.uk/publications/#folder2).

Higher education institutions that take this issue seriously would be well advised to read those documents and see how their own policies and procedures measure up.

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