Sussex University took eight months to deal with my domestic abuse complaint

For eight months I felt like I was fighting this huge battle all by myself

TW: Discussions of domestic abuse, rape and sexual assault 

After graduating from Sussex University last summer, I’ve decided it’s finally time to tell my story. The University of Sussex took eight months to close my case after I reported to them I had been domestically abused by another student.

Arriving as a fresher at Sussex in September 2016, I had no idea of what I was about to endure over the next four years. Thinking back now, it’s so hard to believe the university I graduated from was the same as the university I joined in 2016.

The summer before I arrived, the university found itself subject of exceptionally negative press. This was a result of Dr Lee Salter, a former Sussex lecturer who had been convicted of attacking his student girlfriend. The University of Sussex released an independent report in which they identified the four key areas of poor practice. The uni acknowledged it failed to follow and operationalise its own policies and procedures, inadequate risk assessment, an over-reliance on and lack of scrutiny of HR decision making, and a failure in its duty of pastoral case towards the victim. They have since apologised for this and taken accountability.

What’s so scary is that these failures made by the university five years ago are worryingly similar to the issues I found with the report system just months ago. As a student who has reported abuse, I feel completely and utterly let down by Sussex University.

One of the many reasons I initially put Sussex down as my firm university choice was because of its renowned activist scene and supposedly progressive politics. It’s no secret that universities all over the UK have specific stereotypes, but as someone who is deeply passionate to social justice causes and making the world a better place, I thought Sussex would be the right fit for me – I was very wrong.

I reported my experience of domestic abuse to the university in early November 2019. It wasn’t until two days before I got my degree, in July 2020, that I was told my case had been closed. For an entire academic year, I lived in terror and I desperately tried to get help. However the uni was so delayed in offering support and also in giving me a response that it felt like I was fighting this huge battle all by myself.

Two other women, both ex-students to the university, reached out and told me they had been raped and abused by the same perpetrator as me. The details of their cases were harrowingly similar to mine. They also showed me the perpetrator had admitted to all of it, in writing. He read through statements that included allegations of rape, encouraging his partner to commit suicide, urinating on other’s property out of anger, drunken rages, amongst so much more, and accepted that he had done this.

Despite the university having all this information on top of our three reports – the uni was still dangerously slow in taking action. I had to live through eight months of uncertainty, and that was just me. The second case was finalised days ago after over a year and the third case is still ongoing.

By the time I reached my final year, I was fresh out of an incredibly abusive relationship and completely disillusioned with the “woke” ethos packaging that Sussex is wrapped in. I had been in contact with the Student Life Centre and the Students’ Union about my experiences throughout the summer, so by the time I finally opened up to friends and family about what I had endured, there was little surprise. Whilst I’d kept much of it a secret, there had been a growing concern for my welfare and safety, and by the time I left my relationship, countless former friends of his reached out to say they were horrified over my treatment and would be immediately cutting ties.

Once my case had closed, my abuser admitted he had raped and abused women, and that he wanted to know why he had been so “violent” to women. It appeared to me that no disciplinary action was taken by the university, despite three reports against him. He finally dropped out of university in March 2020, however this was on his own accord rather than any form of punishment from the university.  It was as though he felt entitled to completely wreck the mental health of others, yet somehow, felt as though he was entitled to be free of any consequences because of his own mental health and other struggles. At one point, he even made contact with me – normally the uni should put in place a procedure to request perpetrators don’t do that.

I attempted to initiate a Restorative Justice process, hoping that the university would be able to offer a chance for me to explain how severely what I’d gone through had impacted my mental health. Naturally, my abuser denied any wrongdoing, and used the well known abuser tactic of DARVO: Denying, Attacking, and Reversing Victim and Offender roles.

When universities delay acting on reports or don’t take them seriously, it helps perpetuate the narrative that abuse is ok. It’s an imperative that Sussex takes a long look at its history of handling abuse cases, which includes the Salter case, the broken sexual assault reporting tool that went unnoticed for months, investigations taking over a year and countless more. How can I trust the Sussex to be impartial or fair when this is their track record?

When you look at how Sussex has completely failed to help abuse victims in the past, these incidents no longer seem coincidental. I’m tired of silence and the university failing countless students. I’m tired of fighting to be heard and listened.

And most of all, I’m tired of being too sad to look back on my university years happily, knowing that my university did nothing to help me when I needed it most.

A spokesperson from The University of Sussex told The Sussex Tab: “The University is not able to publicly share information about individual cases, as this would be a huge breach of the information that has been shared by students in confidence. The University has both safeguarding responsibilities towards students in this regard and legal data privacy requirements. This means we are not in a position to provide details to explain why certain decisions were made and therefore why they may have taken longer to conclude.

“We appreciate this can be really difficult for those involved and we will always offer support to students during such a time. Sadly, students often report cases that are extremely complex and may involve more than one person. We inform the reporting student the outcome of their case, when this has been concluded – as this is an extremely important part of the process.

“We are really sorry to hear that our former student feels strongly that the University has not provided the right support. We are always keen to talk about how our processes work and remain keen to do this, however we cannot do that publicly as we do not want to undermine the confidences we have made to our students in protecting the information they have shared with us.”

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