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Murray Edwards College
University of Cambridge

President makes speech on discipline and sexual misconduct at the Senate House

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    21 May 2019

    "In the UK, nine out of ten women who have been sexually assaulted or raped do not go to the police. There are several reasons for this but one of their main concerns is that they do not want the most intimate details of their personal lives exposed and interrogated in the court room. It is unsurprising then that students in Cambridge also tend not to report incidents of sexual assault to the police.

    The fact that many young women feel unable to report sexual assault to the police does not take away the duty of care the Collegiate University has for its students – a fact that was recognised by the change in University policy in 2015 concerning sexual misconduct. Like many others, Murray Edwards College strongly supported the change in policy and the subsequent procedures put in place for investigation and disciplinary action.

    When our own students have been harassed or raped, we make sure the options available are clear to them – including the option to go to the police. However, if they don't want to go to the police, we advise them on the University's processes and procedures. In our experience, we have found that the Colleges of the alleged perpetrators respond in varied ways – some take the matter seriously, others do not. As such, we believe it is preferable to use the University's procedures because of the expertise now available with the appointment of a specialist staff member to handle the process, and for reasons of fairness.

    In setting out options, we do have to make it clear the University does not have the right or the resources to undertake a criminal investigation – and students must understand that from the outset. We are also well aware that when a criminal process is underway, action by the University should in no way obstruct or make difficult the proper progress of a criminal case.

    Some argue that because the University is often unable to deliver evidence that is beyond reasonable doubt, it should not investigate allegations of sexual misconduct or take any action at all. We believe this is quite wrong. Other universities in the UK use the standard of proof to be 'on the balance of probabilities' and this should be the case for the University of Cambridge too. It's true the University cannot use the same processes that a criminal investigation would use – nor can they issue the same sanctions. However, the University can take forward disciplinary investigations and sanctions – and as such, it is entirely appropriate that the standard of proof is 'on the balance of probabilities' in such cases.

    Some are concerned that alleged perpetrators will have their lives ruined unjustifiably because certain types of evidence may not be available to the University – or simply that it's one person's word against another. We believe this concern is misplaced. The Discipline Committee (if instructed) will use their considerable skills and experience to judge whether there is enough evidence to come to a decision on the incident and what (if any) action needs to be taken. We must rely on the Committee to make a wise decision. Of course, if there are concerns, there is also an Appeals Process available.

    To conclude: Murray Edwards College welcomes the revised Student Disciplinary Framework, including a much clearer description of the rules of behaviour, especially concerning sexual misconduct. We welcome the simplification of the structures and we welcome the change in the standard of proof definition."

    Dame Barbara Stocking, President, Murray Edwards College

    21 May 2019