The University of Warwick has apologised for the way it handled complaints from female students targeted with rape threats.
Stuart Croft, vice-chancellor of the university, acknowledged that the institution “made some mistakes” and apologised for the way it “communicated with the victims” after an independent review found that the handling of the case had generated a “legacy of mistrust” and that there had been “a profoundly unsatisfactory outcome for almost every single person involved”.
The case relates to a Facebook “group chat” in which male students sent each other sexually violent messages about fellow female students, including racist comments and graphic descriptions of gang rape and genital mutilation.
After being shown the messages by one of the men, two female students mentioned in the chat made official complaints to the university. Six men were given campus bans after a university inquiry, but two of the men’s 10-year bans were reduced to one year after they appealed to Warwick – a move that came under intense criticism.
Two women are suing the university for discrimination and negligence.
The independent review, which was led by solicitor Sharon Persaud, says there was a sense from many that throughout the case “the university had been more concerned with its own reputational interests than in a fair or just assessment of the case”.
The review’s report recommends that Warwick consider a protocol for communication with victims and respondents; create guidance setting out the basis of the university’s disciplinary policy, and its general principles and procedures; and incorporate a clear code of conduct into the student contract so that breach and consequences are obvious.
The review also says that sexual misconduct and other serious cases must be investigated only by investigators with specialist skills and adds that consideration must be given to how to convey and balance complex messages – which may be in tension with each other – when facts cannot be put in the public domain.
Warwick accepted the report’s recommendations and committed to a five-point action plan, including reporting publicly every quarter on its progress, beginning in September 2019.
The university said it would also set out a clear vision of the principles that Warwick stands for and work to embed these in the community.
Professor Croft said he wanted to go further than Dr Persaud’s recommendations “so that we can learn from these experiences, improve and develop our processes, and offer what we have learned to other universities”.
“As part of this, we know we must also be clearer about what our university community stands for, to cultivate an environment where prejudice and socially unacceptable behaviour of any kind are never tolerated, and where students and staff have pride in, and commitment to, our values,” he said.
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