A wave of university rape investigations echoing those brought in under Title IX in the USA is due to be rolled out in Britain.
New guidelines published last week recommend that universities investigate and punish students over alleged sexual offences – even if they are cleared by a court.
A lengthy report by the Universities UK and law firm Pinsent Masons said that institutions should appoint their own investigators and carry out extra discipline after the legal process has ended.
It recommends using a significantly lower standard of evidence than criminal courts, and specifically advises universities to pursue proceedings both when the alleged victim has dropped the case, when prosecutors have dropped it through lack of evidence, and even if the accused stood trial and was cleared.
The report admits that internal university processes will inevitably have less information to go on than a criminal proceeding – and also recommends a lower standard of proof (“51%” instead of “beyond all reasonable doubt”).
Here is a suggested disciplinary code for universities to adopt. It leaves open the possibility that “unwanted sexual remarks” could be punished with expulsion.
The report acknowledges that it is “unreasonable” for universities to attempt to determine whether actual crimes – like rape – took place. So instead it recommends vaguer language like “potential sexual misconduct”.
It raises the prospect of the worst excesses of the US system repeating themselves, such as the student who was expelled from Occidental College and then a second college because of a sexual encounter neither he nor his alleged victim remember.
The guidelines are not binding, and universities will have to choose whether to adopt them. Some already have.
But the new publication tears up the previous convention – that institutions should not involve themselves in police matters at all.
But it is expected that almost every university will – and some campaigners have suggested a system of punishments for those not seen to be tough enough.
When Heat Street contacted Universities UK to ask about the report, the organization was initially willing to engage.
But after they were sent a list of concerns – and whether there was any evidence the authors took precautions to stop the new system misfiring – they declined to comment.
Featured image via Wikimedia Commons/Rwendland