University of Essex 'sorry' for sex complaint delays

Image source, University of Essex
Image caption, Complaints lodged with the University of Essex are meant to be concluded within 60 days

A university has been accused of effectively "silencing" students who have made sex assault complaints.

The BBC found despite the University of Essex's aim of dealing with complaints within 60 days, a number of cases had taken a year to be dealt with.

Forty-six students have made complaints under a new system, including 38 of sexual harassment. Some have complained about the handling of complaints.

The university has apologised to students for the delays.

The university set up the new complaints system a year ago, as part of efforts to tackle sexual harassment.

None of the students who spoke to the BBC reported their allegations to the police.

The university said reporting such complaints was down to the individuals, but it endeavoured to make sure victims were aware of the options available.

A Freedom of Information request found four cases in which the university said: "The complainant did not wish to take the matter to the police."

Three students said they now regretted not going to the police before alerting the Student Conduct Office.

'Taken advantage of'

The BBC found a male student had been named in four separate complaints lodged between May and November last year.

However, three of the allegations - which include two serious sexual assaults and one of sharing of an indecent photograph - have yet to be resolved at a misconduct hearing.

Image source, PA
Image caption, One case complained about involved a student allegedly sharing explicit images of fellow students over WhatsApp

One student told the BBC although she reported a serious sexual assault in May last year a hearing date had only just been set.

"It's made me feel like I have been taken advantage of not just by him, but by the university.

"I feel they silenced it.

"He is still able to walk around on campus… and nothing has been done about it. It doesn't give me any closure."

'Stressful experience'

Another student told the BBC she reported the same student for sharing explicit sexual images of students on WhatsApp.

Her complaint was dismissed on the grounds of insufficient evidence.

"This was an extremely stressful experience to go through while separated from my loved ones on another continent," she said.

The university, which has appointed an extra member of staff to investigate complaints, told the BBC it had to investigate "cases thoroughly".

"We're sorry if students are disappointed with the way we've dealt with their complaints and the time it may have taken.

"We've reviewed the specific cases highlighted by the BBC and our records show we provided face-to-face advice and support including information about reporting incidents to the police then followed this up with a full investigation through our Student Conduct Office.

"Although we believe we've responded appropriately we accept that the time it has taken to resolve some of these cases has left students in a very difficult position due to the uncertainty they've felt."

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