THE UNIVERSITY of Warwick has apologised for its rape chat scandal response after a report uncovered widespread failings and ‘a legacy of mistrust’.
An independent investigation was triggered after students demanded a review into the university’s disciplinary and appeals process – with many insisting the university had failed in its duty to protect them from abuse.
Students at the university were suspended over mysognistic and racist social media chats between a group of male students – which included talk about raping female students.
The chat first came to light when exposed by university student paper The Boar in March last year.
The report published yesterday found the complaints process produced a ‘profoundly unsatisfactory outcome for almost every single person involved.’
University vice-chancellor Stuart Croft has apologised for the university’s mistakes, particularly in communicating with victims.
He has promised ‘profound changes’ to the way the university deals with cases of sexual violence and misconduct.
The student union welcomed the report’s findings but warned this should be the start of a far reaching overhaul of the complaints handling process.
Widespread outrage remains after the initial ten year suspensions – for two of five students involved – were reduced to 12 months after an appeal and ‘new evidence.’
After much criticism university chiefs overturned that decision, confirming the two students would not return.
Dr Sharon Persaud – an experienced solicitor who wrote the report – says she spoke to those who had been centrally involved as well as other respondents.
The probe found there was an impression among those interviewed that, throughout the saga, the university’s primary consideration was ‘protecting its own reputational interests.’
It said there was a view the process had ‘let down’ the victims, particularly after the students had their bans reduced.
Reflecting on the thoughts of the victims, the report said there was a “collective failure of the university to acknowledge the harm done to them, to the other young women affected, and to the university community”.
It also suggested there were issues surrounding impartiality after the university’s head of communications was initially tasked with investigating the incident.
Dr Persaud has outlined 30 recommendations for the future which the university says it will implement in a five-point action plan.
The report calls on the university to create a specialist team to deal with sexual violence and misconduct, employing ‘more investigators with specialist skills’.
It also recommends the creation of a dedicated panel and code of conduct concerning the process.
The university’s vice-chancellor Stuart Croft said: “We acknowledge that we made some mistakes and we apologise for this, including how we communicated with the victims.
“We want to go even 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.”
A statement from the students union agreed with the recommendations.
“This review is very much the start of a process. We will hold the university to account on the implementation of these recommendations whilst ensuring that, where necessary, the university goes beyond what has been proposed.
“The review focused primarily on issues of sexual violence and misconduct but we are conscious that there are a broad range of interconnected issues that must continuously be considered.”