Sexual Allegations Against University Students

Your time at university should not only be educational, but also fun, often representing your first taste of independence. However, that all changes if a student faces an allegation of sexual misconduct whilst at university. This can have a devastating impact on the student and their family.

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What Constitutes a Sexual Allegation?

Sexual allegations can include using misogynistic language, harassment (in person or by social media), unwanted sexual touching and rape.

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What is the process for a university investigating sexual allegations involving a student?

When a university is in possession of a complaint of a sexual nature, the university will usually convene a formal misconduct investigation. This is separate and additional to any investigation the police may or may not pursue.

There is no universal system which universities must follow when investigating and disciplining students. However, the process must be fair and provide the student with an opportunity to present their case and challenge the evidence against them. Most universities publish their disciplinary process, so those facing allegations can familiarise themselves with what is expected of them. The process can be daunting, with wide ranging ramifications, so students should seek support from an experienced lawyer as soon as possible.

Often the student is asked to respond to the allegations in writing, either in a narrative document, or a formal witness statement. This is a vital step where legal advice is highly beneficial. This document is likely to be scrutinised later in the process for any hint of discrepancies.

Written submissions to the university are often necessary to address any procedural concerns, or disclosure issues, to ensure a fair process.

The university will then appoint an independent investigator who will either be a member of staff or an external contractor. It is quite common for these investigators to be retired police officers or career workplace investigators, who will be well versed in establishing facts and presenting evidence to the decision maker. Therefore, it is even more important to seek professional help yourself before submitting your case.

Once a preliminary review of the evidence from both sides has taken place, the decision will be taken whether a formal disciplinary hearing will be convened. The panel will usually consist of senior members of academic staff.

If the matter proceeds to a misconduct hearing, our education solicitors will prepare the case with you, exploring a pro-active defence. We will consider any potential defence witnesses, any relevant social media or digital evidence, such as what’s app/text messages. Where necessary we can work with forensic experts, in relation to issues such as DNA evidence, psychologists, mobile and computer evidence.

At the university misconduct hearing, one of our education solicitors, can attend the hearing with you, to represent you, tenaciously fighting your corner, providing you with the best prospect of a favourable outcome.

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Student Sexual Allegation FAQ

What sanctions can a university impose if they find a sexual allegation proven?
If a disciplinary panel finds the allegation proven, they will then decide what sanction to impose. The powers each university has can vary. However, sanctions typically include removing a student from their course, excluding them for certain parts of campus, or fines.

Dismissal from the course and/or university can have a devastating impact upon a student’s future study, career prospects, finances and mental health. It is therefore advised that any student facing sexual allegations, appoints as lawyer to help them, as soon as possible.

When should I involve a lawyer in a university investigation into sexual allegations?
Early intervention by a lawyer will reap dividends as the matter progresses. In our experience, some universities tell students that they are unable to have a lawyer assist them during an investigation or represent them in a misconduct hearing. However, recent case law dictates that students are entitled to have legal representation in serious cases. In any event, students are always entitled to seek legal advice.

What happens if the police are also involved?
Our education solicitors have a background in criminal defence and work with our criminal defence team when necessary. Should the need arise, we can advise and represent a student who may be investigated by both the police and the university. This approach ensures consistency and that strategic decisions are made with both investigations in mind. Our teams are used to working together, which means that if there is police involvement, the criminal defence team will understand the wider implications for a student in relation to their ongoing education.

Typically, a university will pause their investigation whilst the police carry out their enquiries. Should the police decide to take no further action, the university will usually still investigate the allegation themselves.

If there is no police involvement, usually due to the complainant not wishing to involve the criminal justice system, the university are likely to continue their own investigation.

What further implications are there for trainee professionals, such as student doctors/dentists/nurses?
Our education solicitors also work in conjunction with our professional disciplinary team, who can assist students who are training to be a professional, such as medical, dental and nursing students. This input may be necessary if the university invokes their fitness to practise proceedings, as well as their misconduct proceedings.

Our professional disciplinary team can provide further support later, when the student reaches the stage of applying for registration with organisations such as the General Medical Council (GMC), General Dental Council (GDC) or the Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC).

Our solicitors can give advice about what outcomes need to be disclosed and what do not. Where university misconduct/fitness to practise proceedings need be disclosed, we can advise on the optimum way of doing so, to minimise the risks of an application for registration with a professional body being refused.

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Our education solicitors have experience of advising and robustly defending students facing sexual misconduct allegations at some of the most prestigious universities in the UK. We understand the difficulties these investigations cause students and their families and are here to guide you through the process and assist you to secure the most favourable outcome possible.

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