Complaints of harassment against students

Policy and Procedures approved by Council on 1 December 2014. Revisions to the Student Procedure approved by Education Committee in March 2016.

1. This Procedure is designed to deal with student complaints of harassment by other students that arise in a University context. Complaints of harassment against students which arise purely within the college environment will normally be dealt with under appropriate college procedures (see www.admin.ox.ac.uk/eop/harassmentadvice/collegeharassmentpolicies), while reflecting the principles of the University harassment Policy. Complaints of harassment brought by students against University staff will be dealt with under the staff Procedure, but with the students supported by the Director of Student Welfare and Support Services.

2. If a member of staff wishes to make a complaint of harassment against a student, this will normally be dealt with through Statute XI. In the first instance, a member of staff should seek support and guidance from that person’s head of department or line manager.

3. All references within this Procedure to the Director of Student Welfare and Support Services should be understood to refer to the Director or the Director’s nominee. The Director of Student Welfare and Support Services’ office can provide support to students, and to staff requiring advice on student cases. The Director will have oversight[1] of all cases referred to the Director’s office under this Procedure, and will take the lead as appropriate in liaising with other parts of the collegiate University. The Director will act as a source of information and advice for the collegiate University on student cases of harassment, and will make referrals as appropriate. The Director will also be responsible for recording and reporting of cases referred to her/his office under this Procedure.

4. In serious cases, it is likely to be appropriate to proceed directly to stages 2 and 3 of this Procedure.

5.This Procedure is separate from Statute XI on University Discipline. Complaints of harassment made under stage 3 of this Procedure (formal written complaint) may sometimes result, following an investigation, in a decision that the alleged harasser should face disciplinary procedures under Statute XI.

Stage 1 - Informal action

6. In some cases, a student who feels harassed by another student may feel able to approach the person in question to explain what conduct the first student finds upsetting, offensive or unacceptable, and to ask that person to refrain from that behaviour. At no time should a student feel obliged to approach an alleged harasser, and the University does not wish to suggest that students who feel that they have been harassed are responsible for rectifying the situation. It may often be appropriate to proceed directly to stages 2 and 3 of the procedure.

7. Before taking informal action, the student could discuss the situation with a harassment advisor. If the student does not feel comfortable contacting a local advisor in their college or department, they can contact the Harassment Line for details of another advisor (Tel. 01865 270760 or e-mail harassment.line@admin.ox.ac.uk).  Harassment advisors will not approach the alleged harasser on behalf of an individual.  Details of the role of the harassment advisor can be found at www.admin.ox.ac.uk/eop/harassmentadvice/advisornetwork .

8. Other sources of advice when considering informal resolution include college Deans or other college officers with pastoral responsibilities, JCR and MCR welfare representatives, Student Peer Supporters, and OUSU’s Student Advice Service (Tel. 01865 288466 or e-mail advice@ousu.ox.ac.uk).

9. These sources of support and advice are also available to students who have been accused of harassment.

Stage 2 - Student Welfare and Support Services

10. If informal action does not succeed in resolving the situation, or would not be appropriate given the nature of the behaviour, the Director of Student Welfare and Support Services’ office is available for support and advice to any student. Students can contact the Director of Student Welfare and Support Services’ office by e-mail: director.swss@admin.ox.ac.uk.

11. The Director of Student Welfare and Support Services’ office will refer the student to a staff member trained in dealing with harassment cases. This staff member will be available to support the student throughout the process, including if the student decides to move to stage 3 and make a formal complaint, and will also provide support following the outcome of any formal complaint. The Director of Student Welfare and Support Services will oversee all cases referred to Student Welfare and Support Services, and will advise and take action as appropriate. Actions taken will vary depending on the case. Actions taken by the trained staff member may include:

  • Giving advice on options for ways to proceed, and helping the student to make decisions on the action that the student wants to take
  • Referring the student to appropriate support services (such as the Student Counselling Service).

Actions taken by the Director of Student Welfare and Support Services may include:

  • Facilitating a mediation or conciliation process between the student and the alleged harasser, if both parties agree. An experienced mediator or conciliator acceptable to both parties will normally be nominated by the Director of Student Welfare and Support Services. The mediator or conciliator will meet with the parties separately and as soon as practicable to begin to seek a resolution. The normal expectation is that resolution would be achieved within 20 working days of the initial meetings with the parties (although this time limit may be extended by agreement). Any agreed outcome will normally be recorded in writing. All those involved in the mediation or conciliation process must maintain appropriate confidentiality
  • Referring a case to a college, if it transpires that the alleged harassment did in fact take place purely within the college environment
  • Ensuring that relevant members of staff within the collegiate University are informed of the case if appropriate, with the student’s consent, and having due regard for obligations of confidentiality owed to others.

12. Support from the Director of Student Welfare and Support Services’ office is also available to students against whom complaints of harassment have been made. Actions taken will vary depending on the case, but the support will be equivalent to that available to a student who feels harassed by another student, including referral to appropriate support services, and facilitation of a mediation or conciliation process if both parties agree. The Director of Student Welfare and Support Services will ensure that, where a complainant and a student complained against are both seeking support, they will be dealt with by different members of staff, who will maintain appropriate confidentiality.

13. Support from the Director of Student Welfare and Support Services’ office is also available to students who wish to make or have made a complaint of harassment against a member of staff, under the staff Procedure in Annexe A.

14. Brief records will be kept of all meetings held and actions taken in relation to the case at this stage. These records will be managed in accordance with the principles of the Data Protection Act 1998[2]. These include ensuring that personal data is kept accurate and up-to-date, held securely, and not kept for longer than necessary.

Stage 3 - Formal written complaint

15. If action taken at stages 1 or 2 does not succeed in resolving the situation, or would not be appropriate given the nature of the complaint, the student should make a formal written complaint to the Proctors. In some cases, it will be appropriate to proceed directly to this stage. In these cases, if the complainant has not already contacted the Director of Student Welfare and Support Services’ office, the Proctors will normally seek the complainant’s consent to being referred, so that the complainant can be offered appropriate support from a trained member of staff.

16.The complaint should normally be made as soon as possible after the event(s) to which it refers, or normally within one month of the completion of any resolution attempts made at stages 1 and 2.

17. The complainant should set out as clearly and succinctly as possible (i) the nature of the behaviour that the complainant is concerned about; (ii) the effect of this behaviour on the complainant; and (iii) where possible, the resolution that the complainant is seeking. The complaint should include dates and details of any witnesses to any incidents referred to in the complaint, together with any documentary evidence. The complainant should also explain where appropriate any attempts that have been made to resolve the difficulties. If the complainant has already made a statement about the behaviour under stage 2, this may be sent as their formal written complaint, with the proviso that the Proctors may request further information.

18. One of the Proctors, or another person appointed by them, independent of the college and department/faculty of the students involved, will investigate the case to establish the relevant factual evidence and decide on any actions which should be taken. This may include holding meetings with both the complainant and the alleged harasser, and speaking to other relevant people on a confidential basis. At all times both parties will have the right to be accompanied at meetings. This could be by a member of Congregation or a member of staff from OUSU’s Student Advice Service.

19. Every effort will be made to achieve a prompt outcome to the complaint – the aim being to conclude the complaint within a period of one month. Both the complainant and the student who is the subject of the complaint will be expected to co-operate with the University in achieving that result. If it is not possible to resolve the issue within this timeframe, for example for reasons of complexity or the absence of relevant parties from Oxford, both parties will be kept informed.

20. At all times both the complainant and the student complained against will be kept informed of proceedings, and will be referred as appropriate to sources of support and advice. Both parties will be informed in writing of the outcome of the investigation of the complaint.

21. In some circumstances, in the interests of the complainant and/or the student complained about, it may be necessary for interim action to be taken, pending the outcome of the investigation. This may include making arrangements to limit contact between the parties concerned.

22. Investigation of a formal written complaint of harassment may result in:

  • Deciding that the alleged harasser should face disciplinary procedures under Statute XI
  • Recommending to a department/faculty or college actions to take, including making arrangements to limit contact between the parties concerned. The head of department or Head of House will have responsibility for implementing and monitoring any actions, and for reporting to the Proctors that action has been taken. The Director of Student Welfare and Support Services will be available to advise departments/faculties and colleges
  • Referring either or both parties to appropriate support services
  • Referring a case back to the Director of Student Welfare and Support Services’ office, for the complainant to receive support from a trained member of staff
  • Referring a case to a college, if it transpires that the alleged harassment did in fact take place purely within the college environment
  • Taking no further action other than, where appropriate, implementing or suggesting steps that would help to restore reasonable relationships between the parties. This approach will usually be appropriate where the claim(s) of harassment are considered to be unfounded and where there is a continuing relationship between the parties
  • In rare cases disciplinary action may be instituted against the complainant if there is evidence that the complaint of harassment is unfounded and not made in good faith.

23. If the subject of the complaint is referred to face disciplinary procedures under Statute XI, then at the conclusion of such procedures the complainant will be informed whether the outcome of the disciplinary procedure was that their complaint was upheld, partially upheld or not upheld. The complainant will not usually be told what sanctions, if any, were imposed on the subject of the complaint.

24. If the complainant is not satisfied with the outcome following the investigation of the formal written complaint or any subsequent disciplinary process, the complainant may be able to apply to the Office of the Independent Adjudicator for Higher Education (OIA) for a review of the case.  Any such application must be made within one year of the date of the Completion of Procedures letter.

25. The Director of Student Welfare and Support Services will be kept informed of the outcomes of all formal written complaints of harassment made to the Proctors under stage 3 and will take such action, including informing others, and arranging for support for all parties following the outcome, as may be appropriate in the circumstances.

Referrals

26. On occasion, complaints of harassment which should be considered under this Procedure may be made to staff other than the Director of Student Welfare and Support Services’ office or the Proctors. In this situation, staff should explain the Procedure, and ask the complainant if they would like the case referred to the Director of Student Welfare and Support Services’ office, so that they can receive support from a trained staff member, or whether they would like it referred to the Proctors as a formal written complaint.

27. If a student does not wish to seek support and advice, or to make a complaint, under stages 2 or 3 of this Procedure, or if there are queries about the procedure to be followed, staff can contact the Director of Student Welfare and Support Services’ office for advice on a confidential basis.[3]

28. There may be occasions where a student does not wish to seek support and advice or to make a complaint under stages 2 or 3 of this Procedure, but where the Director of Student Welfare and Support Services or the Proctors consider that the implications for the individual and/or for others actually or potentially affected are serious. This may include cases where other parties, but not the aggrieved party, have made a complaint. In such circumstances the Director may ask the Proctors to initiate an investigation and make a decision on further action on the basis of such evidence as is available, or the Proctors may themselves decide to initiate such an investigation. The individual’s consent will normally be sought if disclosure is to be made, and a decision on disclosure would be made at a senior management level.

Potentially criminal misconduct

28. This Procedure, or parts of this Procedure, may not be applicable where the allegations are of behaviours that may attract criminal sanction. This would include, but would not be limited to, cases of serious assault or threat of serious assault. The Proctors, in consultation with the Director of Student Welfare and Support Services (as appropriate), will decide whether this Procedure is applicable, having regard to all relevant circumstances including any police involvement. Support for any student affected by such an incident may be sought from the office of the Director of Student Welfare and Support Services.

29. In addition the Director of Student Welfare and Support Services will consider whether it is appropriate to make recommendations to appropriate bodies regarding arrangements that would have the purpose of limiting contact between students for so long as may be considered reasonably necessary[1]. Further guidance on cases of sexual assault and sexual violence, including support available, is available at www.admin.ox.ac.uk/eop/harassmentadvice/policyandprocedure.  Issues including but not limited to those around teaching, examinations and accommodation/social activity may need to be considered.

Confidentiality

30. Information concerning allegations of harassment must so far as reasonably possible be held in confidence by those to whom it is divulged.  Unnecessary disclosure of such allegations may attract disciplinary sanction.  Information will be shared on a need-to-know basis. Once a formal complaint is pursued, it is likely to be appropriate and/or necessary for certain information to be provided to others within the University, within certain colleges, or to external bodies.

31. Those to whom disclosure may be made outside the University include the police, the Office of the Independent Adjudicator (“OIA”) and the civil and criminal courts.  The University will not normally report a matter to the police without the complainant’s agreement, except in those rare circumstances where there is sufficient evidence to suggest that an individual poses an extreme risk.

Records

32. The University and all those involved in this Procedure must comply with the principles of the Data Protection Act 1998[5]. These include ensuring that personal data is kept accurate and up-to-date, held securely, and not kept for longer than necessary.

33. Those interviewed in the course of any investigation by the Proctors will be asked to review the notes of their individual discussions with the investigator as soon as is reasonably possible in order to comment on any inaccuracies or omissions. All notes will be preserved during the process and until such time as the University’s internal processes and any external processes are concluded.

34. The Director of Student Welfare and Support Services should be consulted about filing and retaining any notes and documents related to this Procedure, all of which must be held in confidence.


[1] Oversight in this context refers to the Director of Student Welfare and Support Services being aware of all cases so as to ensure the provision of appropriate support to students.
[2] The University’s Data Protection policy is available at: www.admin.ox.ac.uk/councilsec/compliance/dataprotection
[3] Any member of the University can also contact the Proctors for advice and information on any matter.
[4] The powers of the Proctors in relation to action pending the outcome of criminal proceedings are laid down in Statute XI: University Discipline.
[5]The University’s Data Protection policy is available at: www.admin.ox.ac.uk/councilsec/compliance/dataprotection