A student whose report of a sexual assault was not properly followed-up by the University Dean says a satisfactory apology has not been received.
The student, who cannot be identified for legal reasons, reported the alleged assault to University Dean Matt Storey in January 2016, after being advised to do so by Anna Lee, then students’ union Vice-President (Welfare & Community).
Dr Storey responded the next day, and requested that the student “give me as many details as you can and we can decide on the best course of action”, also mentioning that they would work with police if the student decided to report to them as well. Dr Storey also suggested the student work through a representative from the students’ union, Student-Based Services, or their college.
A few days later, the student emailed Dr Storey a detailed account of the assault, and the following week emailed again requesting follow-up. Dr Storey responded and suggested meeting with Student Mental Health Advisor Stacey Spencer. Two meetings with Ms Spencer were arranged.
At the start of March, The Student emailed Ms Spencer for an update. She responded saying she had passed on the information to Dr Storey. The student ended meetings with Ms Spencer at this time.
The student then emailed Dr Storey to ask for an update. In this email, the student clarified that there were no more meetings with Ms Spencer organised, and that it was understood that the deanery was dealing with case. The student expressed confusion as to what was going on with the case.
That was the last email exchange the student had with Dr Storey.
After no response, the student again got in contact with Anna Lee asking for help to contact Dr Storey. The student told SCAN that several further attempts were made to contact Dr Storey, but that no response was received.
208 days after the last email from Dr Storey, the student registered a formal complaint with the university over the handling of the case.
The complaint stated: “My complaint is that a serious allegation was not dealt with in a timely and appropriate manner by the Dean, and that I was not given the necessary information by the University on the status of the report, despite multiple requests.
“After emailing a request for more information, which was seemingly ignored, and trying to contact Matt through Anna Lee, the VP: Welfare and Community, who also got no response, I feel that I have been abandoned, as it were, by the people who were supposed to be helping me with a serious issue. I was not even told that, for example, there was nothing the University could do, but instead I was left waiting weeks and even months for any response from Matt. I was given no information about what was happening whatsoever.
”If I had been informed of what the University could and could not do initially, I would have been more equipped to make the decision of whether I wanted to report to the police. In my opinion this handling of the situation is a breach of the University’s duty of care and of its responsibility for its students.”
After submitting the complaint, the student received an email from the university’s Senior Governance Officer John Dickinson, explaining that it would be passed on to the Director of Student-Based Services, Tom Finnigan.
Mr Finnigan responded 2 days later, outlining the process going forward and assigning Jackie Gregory from Careers as the complaint investigator. After a meeting in late October, a case report was prepared and in December 2016, a hearing was held. The complaint was upheld and the panel recommended the following actions:
That the student receive a formal written apology from the University Dean, Matt Storey.
That the case can, if they wished, be re-opened with the Deputy Dean leading the investigation.
That the University ensure all reported incidents reported to the Deanery are recorded at the time they are reported and updated in a timely manner to reflect the actions and outcomes taken as part of the investigation.
Clear and easily accessible guidance should be made available to students on how to report sexual assaults and other serious incidents to the University.
Student Based Services and the Student’s Union should consider further ways to improve consent education and support structures in place in the event of sexual assault in addition to the compulsory consent training given to all new students that was introduced at the start of the 2016-2017 academic year.
After discussion with Mr Finnigan about the possibilities in re-opening the case, the student chose not to.
45 days after the complaint was upheld, the student had still not received an apology letter from the Dean, and sent a follow up email to Mr Finnigan who apologised and said he would get in contact with Dr Storey.
In February, the student received the following email from Dr Storey:
“The Deanery would like to apologise for the time taken to deal with your case and for any distress suffered due to the delay. The deanery will be taking appropriate steps to try to ensure such a delay does not occur again. Sincerely, Dr. Matthew Storey, University Dean.”
Unhappy with the apology, the student contacted Mr Finnigan to express disappointment as it was felt that the apology was insufficient. In response an letter was received from Mr Finnigan who apologised for how the University had failed them and outlined steps the University was taking to update policy and procedure in regards to assault and reporting.
The student responded, thanking Mr Finnigan for his apology letter, and expressing that they wanted Storey to apologise in such a way himself.
More than a year after the original report of the assault, the student is still impacted by what happened.
“It’s made life very difficult and I’m having to claim mitigating circumstances for my degree classification. I’ve seen multiple therapists, and if I had been given real welfare support from the University to begin with I feel I would be in a different place now.”
A University spokesperson said: “Lancaster University takes all complaints of sexual assault very seriously and we strongly encourage students to report any incidents of this nature, either to the police or to the relevant member of the University.
“The University works closely with the Students Union, Welfare Officers and Disciplinary Teams to ensure students are supported with a timely investigation. We are very sorry that, on this occasion, our expected standards were not met.
“This is an isolated case. A full investigation of this complaint has taken place and the University is currently formulating new policy to ensure similar delays do not happen again.
“These policy proposals will be subject to approval by University senior governance committees.
“We would like to apologise once again to the student for any distress caused.”