Exclusive: VC ignored students’ calls for anonymous sexual assault reporting after group chat scandal
Stuart Croft said he felt ‘a pain in his stomach’ when reading the group chat messages, but did not respond to students’ suggestions of how to help those in need
Warwick's Vice Chancellor ignored suggestions from students that the university should implement an anonymous system for reporting sexual assault at Warwick in light of the boys group chat incident, The Warwick Tab can exclusively reveal.
As a reaction to the group chat, four third year Psychology students investigated how easily Warwick students could report sexual assault and harassment as part of a project for their course.
Finding Warwick's "limited facilities" in sharp contrast to the "more accessible, less intimidating" services at other unis, they contacted both Stuart Croft personally and his office with calls to introduce an anonymous reporting system.
Despite Croft calling for the university to do more "listening" in his open letter on the group chat, the students never received a reply.
Hamish, Saara, Sid and Jennifer, all third year Psychology students at Warwick, found that 173 anonymous reports were filed at Cambridge University nine months after they implemented an anonymous reporting service, 76 of which were made within a few weeks of launch. This compares to only six formal complaints being made at Cambridge within the same time frame.
The group of students told The Warwick Tab: "It seems clear to us, that had such a system been in place, and been easily accessible to students, issues which culminated in the infamous group chat might have become apparent earlier,and interventions could have been made."
In an open letter, published nine months after the group chat emerged, VC Stuart Croft said he felt "shock" and a "pain in his stomach" upon reading the group chat messages last May. However, neither Croft nor his office responded to the Psychology students when they got in touch with the findings of their university project.
The Warwick Tab approached Stuart Croft and The University of Warwick for an explanation as to why the students' concerns were ignored. The university replied: "Anonymous complaints, including those relating to inappropriate behaviour or treatment by a staff member, student or individual associated with the University (including contravening the University’s Dignity at Warwick Policy), can be made through the Student Complaints Resolution Procedure.
"The Student Complaints Resolution Procedure is accessible by searching 'Complaints' or 'Feedback' via the Search Warwick function throughout the University of Warwick website. If they have any queries about the procedure students may email: [email protected]
"For further information on the Student Complaints Resolution Procedure, the most recent version of which has been in place since October 2017, please visit this link."
The Warwick Tab went back to Stuart Croft and the university asking them to answer our questions regarding the lack of dialogue between Stuart Croft and the students. We have so far not received a reply but our email chain has been viewed 185 times.
Jennifer Cox, one of the Psychology students who worked on the project, told The Warwick Tab: "The underreporting of sexual assaults at universities is a major issue, leading to a lack of awareness about an extensive problem that isn't helped if the university has a somewhat lax attitude towards it.
"By providing an option to report anonymously, students are more likely to report incidences of misconduct, making the university more aware of the issue, and then of course interventions can then be implemented if possible."
Hamish Wood-Cutler, another student from the group, added: "In light of all the recent publicity [that Warwick has received over the incident] it's quite easy to go 'oh the university aren't taking this seriously' but I suppose at the end of the day our intentions when starting off, more than creating a massive scene, is that we actually looked and said to them directly here is an issue which is being massively underreported.
"Obviously, as an institution which is there to support and protect people the university should be made aware of that issue. And you would hope they would implement any means at their disposal to try and bring any issues to their awareness and put schemes in place to deal with them. Really, it's just a lack of inappropriate reporting mechanisms, which is leading people within the care of the university to underreport issues that should be brought to the university's attention."
The group of Psychology students have since created a petition to try and get the university to change how reports of sexual assault and harassment are handled, which can be found here.
As well as emailing Stuart Croft and his office, the four students also sent their message to the Student Union, who provided an "unsatisfactory" response, according to the students.
The SU's response detailed that advice and support is usually provided by the Advice Centre, adding that the SU deals with matters on an individual basis and they do "try to offer help to students according to their needs and wishes".
The SU went on to say they had little ability to change the university's reporting systems: "I’m afraid we are unable to influence the content and format of the University’s website but, hopefully, you will receive a reply about this matter from Stuart Croft." The SU finished by saying they would be happy to hear of any more suggestions the students had.
Since The Warwick Tab revealed that further messages including "let's do it all again" were sent down a second group chat, protests have taken place on campus and a petition to ban the boys involved from the university received 80,000 signatures, including that of Warwick and Leamington MP Matt Western.