Universities should not be investigating rape cases

Joanna Williams:

Someone tells you they have been the victim of a crime. What would you advise them to do? The answer seems obvious: go to the police. But what if the victim is a student and the crime is rape? Surely, given the seriousness of the crime, it is even more obvious that they should go to the police. Apparently not. According to some university lecturers and administrators, women’s rights campaigners and journalists, it’s not the police who should be dealing with accusations of rape – it is university disciplinary officers.

In October, online student magazine the Tab reported on the case of Alice, a student at the University of Birmingham. Alice met fellow student David (not their real names) at a friend’s birthday party. At the end of the evening the pair went back to Alice’s house. The next day Alice texted her housemate in distress, asking for help in getting David to leave. ‘It got a bit rapey’, she messaged. ‘Like I was crying… and he didn’t notice.’

Two years later, with their final exams approaching, Alice decided to tell staff at her university what had happened to her. She expected her allegations would be taken seriously and investigated, that she would be protected from seeing David on campus in the run-up to exams, and that she would achieve ‘closure’ before leaving university. Instead, disciplinary officers told her that as the incident occurred off campus and such a long period of time had elapsed, they were not prepared to hold an investigation. They could, instead, send a letter to David, setting out the university’s ‘expectations in respect of his future conduct’ while he remained a student – presumably demanding he stay away from Alice. This was obviously not what Alice wanted to hear, but it seems a sensible response. Of course, Alice was not prevented from taking her accusations to the police if she wanted to pursue the case further.