Managing Risk Related to Sexual Misconduct in Universities

It seems that hardly a week goes by without a story in the national media about sexual violence within universities. Many of these articles focus on the way in which the university has responded to a report of sexual violence and any processes (such as disciplinary processes) they put in place to respond to and manage this”

Since 2016, when the Changing the Culture Report was published and the subsequent publication of Universities UK and Pinsent Masons Guidance, LimeCulture has been working alongside a range of universities to support them to develop their strategic responses to sexual misconduct, with a focus on the importance of establishing clear lines of accountability, ownership and escalation.

In addition to working with individual universities, by the end of this calendar year LimeCulture will have provided accredited training to over 200 staff from 44 different universities across the UK enabling them to work as Sexual Violence Liaison Officers (Sexual Violence and Misconduct Liaison Officers in Scotland).  We are thrilled that the SVLO (SVMLO) model has been adopted across so many institutions. There is clear evidence that this approach, which involves the identification and up-skilling of specialist staff within the university to act as the key people to manage the response to a reported incident of sexual violence affecting a member of the university community, is successful.

Kim Doyle, LimeCulture’s Joint CEO saidwhere universities adopt and implement the SVLO model within a planned strategic framework to manage sexual misconduct effectively by the university, we have seen that it results in victims/survivors having access to a safe, effective and accessible service to support them following their experience of sexual misconduct. This approach provides an appropriate organisational response to the management of risk and facilitates the provision of appropriate actions under the university’s disciplinary code for students.”

LimeCulture encourage universities to understand and recognise that to be effective, the university response must also involve an understanding of risk and how to manage this effectively. The identification of key personnel within the institution who take responsibility and ownership of specific risks is key, albeit that ownership of different types of risk may well rest in different places across the institution.  These risks are often multiple and complex, and may relate to the individual victim/survivor, the criminal justice process, the university itself or to the wider student community, for example. Therefore, it is absolutely crucial that universities are in a position where they can identify and successfully manage and mitigate such risks. As such, LimeCulture strongly advise that universities should conduct a thorough risk assessment for each case which seeks to identify and assess all risks across the relevant functions of the university – for example: disciplinary processes, human resources, student services, codes of conduct, academics, student and staff contracts, investigations and sanctions including suspensions. Only then will the university be able to properly manage these risks effectively.

We know, however, from our work with university colleagues that, unfortunately there is no single risk assessment or management tool that is used by universities. This undoubtedly makes the consistent identification and management of risks more challenging for universities and has resulted in range of approaches to risk management being adopted- some more successfully than others.  Furthermore, although all institutions are different, it is clear that if there was a common approach across the university sector, then it would strengthen the sector’s response as a whole.

Many of the universities that we have worked with, and indeed Universities UK, have told us they feel that a university-specific risk assessment would support them to respond more appropriately when a student or staff member reports sexual misconduct.  Over the last year or so, LimeCulture has been talking to a number of universities about what such a risk assessment tool should contain in order for it to be effective to support them manage sexual misconduct within their universities. The key things that universities told us is that any tool needs to include a series of domains which allows the university to identify and manage the risk of the:

  • Reporting student (or staff member)
  • Responding student (or staff member)
  • University/organisational considerations
  • Criminal Justice/Disciplinary considerations

The universities also told us that any such tool:

  • Needs to be valid over time (either of a case or for the duration of the relationship between the university and the individual in order to discharge effectively the university’s duty of care)
  • Has to facilitate the appropriate management of confidentiality
  • needs to fit with the work of specialised sexual violence services (as where these are involved, they will be assessing and managing risk)
  • Should provide a framework for support workers to manage their clients
  • Must provide university risk management panels with relevant information
  • Has to be effective for recent and non-recent cases and where anonymous reports are made or the responding person is not known.

Following these discussions about risk, and approaches to LimeCulture from universities specifically requesting support around identification and management of risks, LimeCulture is keen to develop a tool that can be used by the university sector.  LimeCulture is a social enterprise and is set up as a Community Interest Company meaning it is a not-for-profit-making organisation.  As such, we will undertake work where it supports our endeavours to realise our vision and values.  This means we will undertake development projects to support the sectors we work with.  We are delighted to be able to confirm that our Directors have agreed that we will be developing a bespoke risk assessment tool for managing sexual misconduct in universities, with the intention of launching the tool in December at our SVLO Conference

Earlier in the summer, we kicked off this project in earnest and held two consultation workshops in London and Manchester with representatives from universities invited from across the UK. Both events were well attended by staff with a wide range of responsibilities including student services, conduct and discipline, security, HR, complaints, welfare and well-being and immigration.  Importantly, our discussions were with staff from universities that have adopted the SVLO model and universities that have not yet taken this approach.  We would like to convey our thanks once again to all the attendees for giving up their time and sharing their expertise with us.

We had fantastic and informative conversations about all things risk-related including how we use language when we are talking or thinking about risk.  We also asked attendees specific questions to enable us to progress the development work in  way that will benefit universities both operationally and strategically.

These discussions focused on:

  • A potential model of risk management (shown here) including whether this would be effective for non-recent reports, anonymous reports and where a report to the police is made
  • The university’s duty of care to reporting and responding individuals and how this is managed in practice
  • How risk assessment and management in the university links to specialist or expert support either within, or external to, the university
  • The exit points from the risk management process and how this works in practice
  • The role of risk management panels, who sits on them and how they work in different institutions

Needless to say, all of this has given us very useful and interesting feedback and our core team have been pulling together the information gathered from the workshops in order to develop the risk tool over the summer (in between some well-deserved holidays).  Our plan is to consult further with a small number of universities around late October so that we can be sure that the tool that we are developing is fit for purpose and meets the needs of universities in the management of sexual misconduct cases. We’ll also be discussing the development of the tool with some of the professional bodies or associations that students and university staff belong to get their ideas and input. We are committed to launching the tool at our inaugural SVLO Conference on 10 December 2019 in London.

It is our strongly held view that training on the tool is an absolute imperative if it is to be used effectively. Therefore, over the next six months, we are will be thinking about how best the tool could be rolled out to universities who wish to use it.

If you have any thoughts about this or about anything else mentioned in this blog post please share them with us by emailing universities@limeculture.co.uk

 

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