Lawyer for rape group chat victims says Warwick ‘hasn’t learned’ from its mistakes
The recent failure to exclude another male perpetrator has highlighted this
The lawyer who represented victims of the Warwick rape group chat has called out the uni for failing to learn from its mistakes two years ago, saying “they haven’t changed”.
Georgina Calvert-Lee, who was the principal lawyer defending the victims, says she is incredibly disappointed in the university for seeming to repeat the mistakes it made two years ago, all over again.
Moreover, just months ago a Warwick student wrote an open letter in The Boar, claiming that she had been raped on campus six months into her first year. She condemned the “toxic” rape culture at the university and called upon Stuart Croft, Warwick’s Vice-Chancellor, to do something.
Warwick has promised it is “continually trying to improve” but Calvert-Lee says it is anything but. “We’ve been pointing out the same problems with their complaints procedure, and the way they handle sexual harassment and the culture of sexual harassment on campus for a long time now. And each time we come to the conclusion of a case it seems like they have taken on board what’s wrong with their procedures, and the inequalities they’re perpetuating within their procedures. Yet, we turn our backs and other cases come forward and the same thing happens again. It is really disappointing.”
One of the principal deficiencies of the university’s procedure, Calvert-Lee says, is that it fails to put victims of sexual misconduct on a level playing field with the perpetrator. “So if someone complains about sexual harassment, that person has evidence taken from them, and then they’re usually excluded from the process altogether. And the person who is complained about is accorded all of the rights.
“And of course the primary defence that an alleged perpetrator will make is to undermine the credibility of the complainant and say that, in the case of assault, it was all consensual. Or in the case of harassment, they will paint the picture in a way that is very undermining of the person who complained. Since the person who complained is rarely given that evidence, they can’t counter it. So that just holds force and the person who’s been complained about is found to have not done it. And so there are no sanctions imposed.”
And even in the cases where the perpetrators are found to have committed some wrongdoing, as with the male Warwick student who groped a fellow student and the men who ran the Warwick group chat, the punishments are “too light”, says Calvert-Lee.
“The sanctions don’t for a moment reflect the gravity of the allegations made. Which makes you wonder, why would anyone bother? Why would they complain and bother putting themselves through the stress of reporting to a university, if the outcome is simply, well, nothing. Nothing, or a no-contact arrangement, which puts as much pressure, if not more, on the victim to avoid the perpetrator, than the perpetrator to avoid the victim.
“It’s not an equal situation. And let’s not forget the perpetrator is the one who’s done something wrong, and the victim has not. They’ve just been a victim.”
After the group chat scandal, the University of Warwick conducted an independent external review into the student disciplinary and appeals processes. Georgina Calvert-Lee was happy to hear of the review at the time, but wonders now if it made any difference at all.
“I think the recommendations made then were perhaps read, they may have even been discussed, but I don’t know if they’ve been adopted. And judging from the recent news coverage, it suggests that they haven’t changed their procedures at all.”
A spokesperson for the University of Warwick: “Following the group chat case in 2018, the University held an independent external review of our student disciplinary and appeals process, and a review of values and behaviours within our community. Since then, we have embedded the recommendations of both reviews and we’re continually trying to improve.
“Our policy on sexual misconduct is clear – it will not be tolerated. Individuals who are found to have broken our values, either by the police or by our own comprehensive disciplinary processes, will face sanctions – which may include expulsion or withdrawal.
“In terms of how we manage cases when, sadly, they arise: anyone who is affected by sexual misconduct is strongly encouraged to report via our online report and support tool. They can do this anonymously if they prefer. All individuals involved in a disciplinary case are provided with support from dedicated Student Liaison Officers who have attended sexual misconduct training, and members of disciplinary panels considering sexual misconduct cases receive training from the Coventry Rape and Sexual Abuse Centre and an external independent Sexual Misconduct Investigator.
“We also ensure that disciplinary panels are fully informed about the nature of any incident being considered – and they are also briefed on potential risks to the community if a student going through a disciplinary process is allowed to continue their studies during the process, or to return to them at a future date after a period of temporary withdrawal. If individuals are allowed to return to the University after disciplinary action, this is only if we are satisfied that they are fit to return to our community and after they have completed training overseen by a suitably qualified professional. All victims of sexual misconduct also have the right of appeal.
“In partnership with the Students’ Union, we are fully committed to continuing to work in partnership with our community to ensure everyone feels safe and supported at Warwick. We urge anyone who feels that they have been a victim of sexual misconduct to seek support from our dedicated and expert team Report and Support team.”