Rachel’s Case: Making a Formal Complaint
Rachel met James at an induction event held in their department in the first week of term. A small group of around 10 students, including Rachel and James, became friends and would regularly go out together in the evenings. This group also communicated through a social networking site online and they posted a number of photographs of each other from their nights out. One picture of James was not very flattering and it received a number of jokey comments from the group. Rachel left a comment that said “uh no – not so hot now!!!” James subsequently replied openly to Rachel’s comment to say “that’s not what you thought last week”.
Over the next few days Rachel received several direct, personal messages from James. Initially he sent a message that said “Don’t pretend you don’t like me”. Rachel assumed he was joking and didn’t reply. Then he sent further messages over the next few days; a number of these were offensive, first accusing her of “leading him on” and later using sexualised names, for example he told her that she “dresses like a whore” and she is a “stupid bitch”. Rachel felt distressed by these messages and also worried that her comment was seen by other students and had appeared to provoke him. Having not responded to any previous messages, she eventually replied to ask him to leave her alone, warning that she would report his behaviour. She received no further messages.
Is this harassment?
Rachel felt that the messages she received were offensive and distressing. The comments about her appearance and behaviour used sexualised language that was demeaning. This all falls within the definition of harassment.
What did the student do?
Rachel emailed an harassment adviser to request an appointment. The advisor met with her for an hour and listened to her account about what had happened. Rachel had kept copies of the messages she had received, and she showed these to the harassment adviser The harassment adviser then outlined some options for the student to consider. These included:
- Asking the student if she was comfortable in talking directly to the male student to raise her concerns and reach an informal resolution
- Considering if the student would be willing to raise the concern with an academic member of staff in her department, who might be able to talk to both students to reach an informal resolution
- Considering if Rachel would want to make a formal complaint against the other student to seek formal action
- Considering if Rachel would want to make a complaint to the Police
Rachel said that she did not want to talk to him directly, and also did not feel comfortable meeting with him, either with an academic member of staff or the harassment adviser. She stated that she did not want to contact the police in this instance.
The harassment adviser asked Rachel to consider what a ‘good outcome would be for her’. Firstly, Rachel wanted the behaviour to stop so that she felt safe. She also wanted the student to understand that his behaviour had made her feel unsafe and demeaned, and that he understood that this was a serious incident.
What happened next?
Rachel decided to submit a statement of complaint using the university’s Misconduct Procedure (Regulation B3); she included the evidence of the other student’s messages with her statement. This is the correct procedure for students reporting allegations of harassment against other students. Rachel sent her letter to the university’s Director of Students & Education via the Student Conduct & Appeals Office (SC&AO). Within 14 days the SC&AO assessed Rachel’s complaint and the evidence she presented and agreed that there was sufficient evidence to accept a charge of misconduct against the other student. Consequently, Rachel was informed that the SC&AO would present this charge to the other student, who would have the opportunity to contest the allegations. Rachel was told she would be informed of the outcome, once agreed.
How was Rachel supported?
During this time, Rachel met twice more with the harassment adviser to talk about how she was getting on. Rachel confirmed that she had not received any further messages from the student since her first meeting with the harassment adviser, however she was given advice about reporting any further incidents, and also she was advised to talk to her personal tutor about the situation so that her department would be aware of any disruption to her studies during this time.
What was the outcome?
The Student Conduct & Appeals department assessed the complaint and the evidence presented and met with James to discuss these. James accepted the charges against him, apologised for his behaviour and was subsequently issued with an appropriate sanction intended to deter any repetition of this behaviour. This outcome was shared with the student’s department and Rachel was also informed.