Universities have spent £1.3 million on gagging orders to silence students

One student was threatened with expulsion if she spoke about her ordeal

Universities have been accused of an “abuse of power” after the BBC revealed institutions regularly used Non-Disclosure Agreements (NDAs) and payoffs to silence student sexual assault complaints.

300 students signed NDAs to resolve complaints against their universities, with payoffs ranging from £250 to £40,000.

BBC news revealed a third of universities had used NDAs to resolve student complaints on sexual assault, bullying, and poor teaching, adding up to a total of £1.3 million.

In one case, a student who reported a sexual assault to her university signed an NDA was threatened with expulsion if she spoke publicly about her case.

The NDA was offered after the university refused to investigate her case. She wasn’t offered money, but told the BBC she signed the agreement as it would prevent her attacker from contacting her.

Universities minister Chris Skidmore said “this is nothing short of an abuse of power” in response to the findings.

Lawyer Dr. Ann Olivarius, who specialises in sexual harassment cases and is helping victims of the Warwick group chat scandal take action against the university, warned NDAs issued without sufficient legal advice were likely unenforceable.

In one case reported by the BBC, an Oxford PHD student who raised concerns over handling of suicide prevention was given £5,000 settlement to sever ties with her college.

Tiziana Scaramuzza said: “They treated me like an inconvenience, like I was the problem, instead of dealing with the problem”.

Oxford’s Oriel College said it “takes the welfare of students and staff very seriously. We currently have several members of staff, external doctors and counsellors providing welfare support,” but would not comment on Scaramuzza’s case.

In another case, a University of West London student who reported a sexual assault was told to come alone to a meeting with the uni. There, she says “someone senior thanked me for not pursuing things with the police”, and alleges she was threatened with expulsion if she made a fuss.

After submitting a complaint, the UWL student was offered £1,000 compensation, in exchange for signing an NDA. The agreement stopped her talking about the terms of the settlement. “Being bound by this means it’s always kind of looming over me,” she told the BBC.

UWL disputes the allegations, and says it provided the student with all the support it could.

The government said: “Harassment of any sort is abhorrent and higher education providers have a responsibility to ensure they provide a safe and inclusive environment.”

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