Updated article. Published by Impact Magazine (Online) November 24, 2014.
A second year Politics student at the University of Nottingham alleged that she had her complaints of sexual assault mishandled by the University’s Student Union (SU) after emailing the President, Harry Copson, and the Equal Opportunities and Welfare Officer, Chloe Averill, voicing her grievances.
Phoebe Greggor felt that her situation was poorly handled by the SU following numerous correspondences between her and the officers beginning with her initial complaint on the 13th October 2014.
In her first correspondence Greggor informed Copson and Averill that she had been assaulted sexually by another student attending the University. The email stated: “I want to submit a formal complaint against another student due to him groping me a number of times on Saturday night at Rock City”.
“As the incident occurred outside of Union activity I have been advised by staff that our own Complaints procedure is not an appropriate avenue at this time”
Within the email, Greggor highlighted that she had already notified the Women’s Officers of her situation and wished to make a more formal complaint.
After commending Greggor for bringing the issue to the attention of the SU, Copson recommended that she seek the support of the Student Advice Centre.
He went on to state: “as the incident occurred outside of Union activity I have been advised by staff that our own Complaints procedure is not an appropriate avenue at this time, which is why I’m signposting you towards the advice centre because they can give you professional advice on what other complaints procedures could be of use to you”.
“We have not had that training so are not able to give advice, sanctions etc.”
After relaying her dissatisfaction regarding Copson’s handling of her concern to the Women’s Officers, Greggor received a response from Averill who reiterated the SU’s lack of training in dealing with such matters. “We have not had that training so are not able to give advice, sanctions etc.
“As Union Officers, both part-time and full-time, it is our job to ensure these matters get dealt with in the most effective manner, and that is by directing you to people who know exactly how to deal with this matter appropriately” she said.
Greggor told Impact: ‘‘The SU may not have training in this type of support, but it doesn’t take training to work out that this kind of issue is not a situation to be handled, but about a human being’’.
“I honestly have felt the SU does not care about its students, especially in cases of misogyny and sexual assault”
No written communication was then received until the 19th November despite having emailed Averill on the 16th October voicing her discontent over how her issue was being dealt with.
She wrote: “I have already spoken with a Dignity Adviser and she was as surprised as me when I told her the SU would not be taking the complaint any further.
“I honestly have felt the SU does not care about its students, especially in cases of misogyny and sexual assault. Rather than explaining to me what I would need to do to file a complaint, the SU has passed me around from place to place.”
Greggor and her attacker both provided statements to members of the University’s Welfare Team, but she has since been told that the investigation would not be continued.
“I received a very cold and harsh phone call from one of the advisers, accusing me of ruining the investigation”
‘‘Both myself and my attacker gave statements in person, and they mentioned they would be able to obtain CCTV from the club,’’ she said.
Greggor revealed on Bad Housekeeping, a forum for gender and feminism related discussion: ‘‘I was accused of giving the wrong date (I’m not sure if I even gave a date, rather told which day) and I received a very cold and harsh phone call from one of the advisers, accusing me of ruining the investigation. I broke down crying in the middle of the library’’.
‘’A few days later I got another email saying because of the evidence received, they would not continue their investigation. At that point, I felt hopeless and that he would get away with it’’.
Following a meeting with a member of the Welfare team at the University of Nottingham, Greggor told Impact: ‘‘the University seems to think that him [the perpetrator] having to give a statement is a good enough consequence’’.
“Any student who wants to talk to us [about sexual assault] will be listened to and taken seriously”
The University’s Welfare Team told Impact that they were unable to comment on specific cases as it would breach confidentiality.
However, they did express their disappointment in the news that Greggor felt that her case was not appropriately handled.
Claire Thompson the Head of Student Welfare said: “Any student who wants to talk to us [about sexual assault] will be listened to and taken seriously, and we will do everything we can to investigate it thoroughly but fairly.”
Measures are in place at the University to ensure that each case is dealt with appropriately and that the welfare of the students involved is the primary concern.
Alternative avenues for support are also available from Topaz, Nottinghamshire’s sexual assault referral centre, as well as The Nottingham Rape Crisis Centre and the University’s own counseling service.
Sexual assault violates the very nature on which the constitution of the Students’ Union is formed. It pledges that “WE THE STUDENTS of the University of Nottingham form a Union that shall act in all our interests embodying the principles of equality, democracy and justice”.
“What has become apparent thanks to this situation is that there is a clear gap between the University’s policies and Union policies which allows such incidents to fall through the gaps”
Greggor says ‘‘From the SU I feel that I have been swept under the carpet and ignored. They are clearly ignoring their own Code of Conduct”.
However, Harry Copson stated in an email to Phoebe that in this case the SU Code of Conduct does not apply: “…Our document highlights the expected behaviours of Union committee members in their representative capacity… the Union’s code of conduct holds no power at events not affiliated with the Students’ Union.”
Her case has resulted in a review of procedures in place to deal with such complaints.
Harry Copson wrote: “What has become apparent thanks to this situation is that there is a clear gap between the University’s policies and Union policies which allows such incidents to fall through the gaps.
“This has been picked up by Chloe and the democratic procedures committee as an area for review”.
Harry Copson was given a right to reply and Greggor is meeting with the SU on Tuesday 25th November.
Belinda Toor, Sam Todd
Research: Yasemin Craggs Mersinoglu