In theory ‘zero tolerance’ for sexual harassment at uni works. In practice it could be disastrous

What if you’re falsely accused

British universities are getting tougher on sexual harassment and hate crimes, with recommendations of a new zero tolerance rule, and the ability for universities to punish students accused of sexual crimes, even if police choose not to prosecute. But what if you’re wrongly accused?

When someone is accused of sexual harassment they have no right to anonymity like the accuser does. This means their names can be made public the second someone makes an accusation that is yet to be proven.

There is a history in the UK now of young men in university being accused of sexual harassment and their names being splashed across news platforms as “rapists” and “sex criminals” yet a court of law has not found them guilt yet. Where has innocent until proven guilty gone?

Now a new landmark report has been published which encourages universities in the UK to have a ‘zero-tolerance’ policy on sexual harassment and hate crimes. In practice it’s conceivable to conclude that this will result in unis being put under pressure to punish those who have been accused before a verdict has been passed.

Is it really that much of a reach to say it could soon be the case that the day you’re accused of sexual harassment could become your last day at university and your last chance of getting a degree for your chosen uni. This is worrying because it sets a dangerous precedent for punishing those who might not be found guilty and could have done nothing wrong.

It is what happened to the four men from Royal Agricultural University who were accused of gang raping a girl at a summer ball. It was later found that none of them were guilty. However, by the time the verdict was passed it was too late for the four men as they had already been kicked out of university and had their names and faces in every national tabloid labeled as “gang rapists”.

It means that any small company who has a public image to protect who never hire them, even though they committed no crime.

It’s important to remember that the anonymity laws for rape victims is of vital importance and gives security to those who needed it most. But allowing those accused of a sex crime to be punished by society before they have been prosecuted by a court of law is damaging in more ways than one. It can and does ruin lives before they have truly got started.

Obviously sexual violence and abuse is a huge issue on our campuses, but this report and recommendations will do nothing to properly address that. When false accusations are made, and especially at university, it can turn someone’s world upside down.

It’s possible to feel judged before you’ve even stepped in front of one.