Universities should not be investigating rape cases

If we want justice to be done, victims must go to the police.

Joanna Williams
Topics Feminism UK

Someone tells you they have been the victim of a crime. What would you advise them to do? The answer seems obvious: go to the police. But what if the victim is a student and the crime is rape? Surely, given the seriousness of the crime, it is even more obvious that they should go to the police. Apparently not. According to some university lecturers and administrators, women’s rights campaigners and journalists, it’s not the police who should be dealing with accusations of rape – it is university disciplinary officers.

In October, online student magazine the Tab reported on the case of Alice, a student at the University of Birmingham. Alice met fellow student David (not their real names) at a friend’s birthday party. At the end of the evening the pair went back to Alice’s house. The next day Alice texted her housemate in distress, asking for help in getting David to leave. ‘It got a bit rapey’, she messaged. ‘Like I was crying… and he didn’t notice.’

Two years later, with their final exams approaching, Alice decided to tell staff at her university what had happened to her. She expected her allegations would be taken seriously and investigated, that she would be protected from seeing David on campus in the run-up to exams, and that she would achieve ‘closure’ before leaving university. Instead, disciplinary officers told her that as the incident occurred off campus and such a long period of time had elapsed, they were not prepared to hold an investigation. They could, instead, send a letter to David, setting out the university’s ‘expectations in respect of his future conduct’ while he remained a student – presumably demanding he stay away from Alice. This was obviously not what Alice wanted to hear, but it seems a sensible response. Of course, Alice was not prevented from taking her accusations to the police if she wanted to pursue the case further.

The Guardian got hold of this story a week ago, noting with outrage that the institution said it ‘only dealt with cases linked to university activities or on its premises’. Off the back of this, more women have now come forward with claims that Birmingham University refused to investigate their rape complaints. There is now a ‘growing outcry’ over Birmingham’s handling of this situation. Both professional campaigners and people employed in higher education are demanding that not just Birmingham, but all universities should go further in investigating complaints of sexual misconduct in order to protect and reassure female students. A former women’s officer at Birmingham Guild of Students told the Guardian that ‘the university’s disciplinary procedures were not fit for addressing sexual violence’. She has met with officials to try to get new measures introduced.

But why should we expect university procedures to be suitable for dealing with claims of sexual violence or rape? Such serious allegations need to be taken to the police, not university bureaucrats. The Birmingham case has generated outrage, but what is really preposterous is the suggestion that accusations of rape should be handled by over-promoted administrators who have taken courses in inclusion and diversity, rather than by police officers with knowledge and experience of the law. Whether an offence is alleged to have happened on or off campus should make no difference: criminal investigations should be left to the police.

Turning to the police, rather than institutional disciplinary officers, is best for those reporting a sexual offence. As Alice says of the University of Birmingham: ‘The whole experience of dealing with the complaint was almost as bad as the night itself.’ Police officers, on the other hand, are trained to handle such cases and can provide victims with access to professional guidance and support. What’s more, it is only through going to the police that justice can be done.

Reporting crimes to the police is also vital for those who stand accused of rape. Facing such serious allegations can have a life-changing impact. Due process – most importantly the presumption of innocence – needs to be followed. Legal representation needs to be provided. It should not be down to a university disciplinary officer to investigate, find someone guilty and pass sentence upon them – perhaps single-handedly. The stakes are simply too high. Being expelled from university for a crime you did not commit, perhaps with no opportunity to clear your name, can amount to three years of your life wasted and up to £50,000 of debt with no qualification to show for it. Facing an accusation without support or guidance, with little sense of what, if any, procedures are being followed, can take a devastating psychological toll.

There is now a campaign underway to shame the University of Birmingham into changing its rules so that, in future, it will investigate rape cases ‘in house’ and issue sanctions against those accused without trial or jury. In response, a spokeswoman for the institution has said: ‘The safety and wellbeing of our students is of paramount importance and we have invested significantly in taking a proactive approach to supporting students who have suffered sexual abuse whenever and wherever it may have occurred. This includes help with accessing specialist support and counselling services, working with the police, and pursuing any formal action.’ Good. It is only through involving the police that both the alleged victim and perpetrator can have any hope of justice being done.

Joanna Williams is associate editor at spiked. She is the director of the new think tank, Cieo. Find out more about it here.

Picture by: Matt Buck, published under a creative commons licence.

To enquire about republishing spiked’s content, a right to reply or to request a correction, please contact the managing editor, Viv Regan.


M Blando

4th December 2019 at 7:06 pm

The central problem is that ‘sex’ covers a wide range of activities – some of which I really can’t describe here. The range of potential ‘violence’ is very wide. So when all said and done, what is someone agreeing to when they consent to have sex? It could be anything, in reality. There’s a huge amount of trust involved.

Unfortunately, because a woman consents at the beginning.. she’s deemed to have consented to whatever follows, regardless of whether it’s what she thought she was consenting to or it’s something entirely different. This means some (excellently illustrated in these comments below) claim rape doesn’t even exist, is not even possible. Figuring out you’ve been duped is a whole world of confused unsureness.. the phrase: “a bit rapey” both expresses this and makes sense.

Directing young people (men get raped too) to report rape to private institutions is a step backwards. H Oxford in these comments, articulates it perfectly.

Frank Strong

30th November 2019 at 10:10 pm

Any accusation of rape should be treated just as harshly as rape itself.

If you get 10 years for rape then you get 10 years if your accustaion fails.

Not guilty = 10 years.

Hugh Oxford

29th November 2019 at 11:23 pm

It seems hard to imagine anything that trivialises the heinous crime of rape more than demoting it from a crime to be investigated by the police to a disciplinary matter to be dealt with by a private institution.

That’s the war on women right there, along with “transgenderism”, and if universities are covering up rapes in this way then they are colluding with criminals.

Titus Groan

29th November 2019 at 9:56 pm

A case in Australia appears to have asserted the law there . Justice Ann Lyons ruled last week that the university was ­restrained from going ahead with the hearing on the basis that the allegations against the ­student “were in fact allegations of crim­inal offences of a sexual nature”. “This is not just an action by the university about breaches of its rules, policies and procedures,’’ Justice Lyons said. “It would indeed­ be a startling result if a committee comprised of academics and students who are not required to have any legal training could decide allegations of a most serious kind without any of the protections of the criminal law.”

Liz Davison

29th November 2019 at 2:47 pm

This seems to be an extension of anti-bullying procédures which are initially kept within the educational sphere. I must say the “got a bit rapey” sounds a loose description of rough sex and as surmised was more likely an attempt to keep her former “lover” at arm’s length. She sounds a silly woman to me and should have had words with him with a friend as witness, telling him to keep away etc. Why are women so pathetic these days? She waited so long to accuse him it’s quite unacceptable.

Sam Spade

29th November 2019 at 8:46 pm

Maybe she waited two years because . . . nothing happened.

Chauncey Gardiner

29th November 2019 at 11:15 am

Wow. There are still some adults at some universities. Pleasant surprise.

steve moxon

29th November 2019 at 7:07 am

The situation is FAR WORSE than Joanna imagines.
Even without the extreme politicsation, rape allegation routinely is false.
Police specialist rape investigators in the Met estimate 50% to 70%.
Around the world, the estimates range from 50% to 90%.
These are the estimates by those working right at ‘the coal face’, as it were.
Even a conservative analysis of the data in the two Home Office special reports on rape would put it at 30% or 35%.
In a recent paper from the University of Nottingham Criminology Department, it was conceded that across the police and judiciary, it was recognised that a great proportion if not the majority of rape complaints are false.
The imperative, then, is to screen out false rape complaints, so as to avoid the most serious miscarriages of justice.
The root of the problem is the often trivial basis of false rape complaints to police, as uncovered by Professor Soothill in the UK and Dr McDowell in the USA. Retrospective withdrawal of consent so as to cover for even minor embarrassment is commonplace.
The complete misrepresentation of this by misandrist feminist totalitarians is an obscenity. If anyone should ever be in jail for ‘hate crime’ it is these malicious bigots.

James Knight

28th November 2019 at 6:28 pm

We have the Criminal Justice System that has evolved over many years of often painful experience. It is far from perfect, but it has got better than handing the investigation of serious allegations to amateurs.

Neil John

28th November 2019 at 2:42 pm

It seems those ‘driving’ this agenda believe the Title IX derived empowerment of administrators as investigators in the USA is a good thing to copy. With little effort the abuses of Title IX can be discovered, whilst some forms of ‘incivility’ that are not criminal offences should be dealt with in house, criminal offences, particularly serious assault, sexual or otherwise, should be dealt with by the criminal justice system. Working in H.E. I know we have dedicated Police liaison officers on campus weekly, if not daily. If a student is unwilling to report a crime to the Police, but makes accusations that are unsubstantiated and unsubstantiatable evidentially to the college/university, they should not expect any action to be taken. The problem unfortunately is the accusation then grows legs and further accusations are made by the ‘sisterhood’ in support, even if truthful this muddies the water, all too often it’s impossible to discern the truth once that happens and collusion if provable further reduces the likelihood of prosecution should it be reported to the Police.
Of course we also lack the ‘Clery Act’, which focuses University administrations in the USA to focus on on-campus crime prevention and reporting, something most Universities here would fail dismally on.
IF it happens on campus or off campus and it’s a crime then criminal procedure’s involving the Police and Law should apply first, with the college/University to deal with the outcome of any case after trial, if it doesn’t go to trial then there isn’t a case to answer.

Vadar’s Hate Child

28th November 2019 at 1:22 pm

I don’t know why there’s all this fuss about universities investigating allegations of misconduct. Employers and schools have been doing investigations and applying civil sanctions for centuries for things like theft, assault, criminal damage, H&S violations etc and only rarely passing them on to the police. If I get expelled for ‘rape’ is it any different from if I get expelled for stealing the vice-chancellors best whiskey? Sure the quality of investigation matters, but as these are being dealt with as civil matters then the test is balance of probabilities. Institutions have to be allowed to exercise discipline on their members who misbehave.

Jerry Owen

28th November 2019 at 2:27 pm

If you equate rape with stealing whisky your moral compass is broken.

Sam Spade

29th November 2019 at 8:53 pm

As an attorney and someone very familiar with Title IX cases in the US, you are correct. BUT, what is important to note is that even relatively minor and ridiculous allegations with less than zero evidence (i.e., direct evidence the assault, etc. did NOT occur) are handled without due process, without cross-examination, and often without an attorney, and the results can remain on your transcripts PERMANENTLY and destroy your future.

Title IX is horrific, has destroyed many hundreds of innocent male lives, and is now, finally, being recognized as wholly and grossly unlawful by the courts and the Trump Administration. Unfortunately, most of the colleges raise their middle finger and continue as if nothing is amiss. After all, ideology is more important than fairness or true equity–and they have billion-dollar endowments with which to pay relatively small jury awards, all while keeping the gravy train rolling in.

It is, in a word, disgusting.

Jerry Owen

28th November 2019 at 12:01 pm

Didn’t the SWP investigate rape claims by the comrades against the comrades, because they didn’t accept the validity of the bourgeois police ?
Seems little has changed in Uni’s !

Claire D

28th November 2019 at 10:24 am

Excellent article Joanna.
This situation around public accusations of rape and sexual assault is gradually developing in an such a sinister way. It is in line with #MeToo, social media mobbing, but most of all with Feminism and feminist’s intention to wrest power from men in any way they can, right or wrong.
It should not be up to an institution, an employer or a political party to deal with accusations of rape or sexual assault, these are crimes, you go to the police.
I hope the University of Birmingham stands firm against the onslaught of the feminist mob.

Jim Lawrie

28th November 2019 at 10:05 am

Ms Williams it is not rape unless proven. It is an allegation of rape.

Jim Lawrie

28th November 2019 at 10:00 am

It must have been a good Party if none of her housemates made it home? Hopefully they all copped off with what turned out to be their partners for life.

Her text message is manufactured hearsay and should not be admissable.

Zebedee Arboretum

28th November 2019 at 9:58 am

This ridiculousness is seeded in our schools. I know of serious cases of assault (head-kicking, etc.) that have been dealt with “in-house”, no police involvement. One wonders what the hell the victims’ parents are thinking by approaching a PR-minded head and not the local constabulary. Also, before we get too comfortable with the scene playing out in our minds, these events occurred at a private girls school…

Jim Lawrie

28th November 2019 at 9:52 am

A “women’s officer”?
Is there a vacancy anywhere for a tranny officer? If not, why not? They commit rape too you know.

Jim Lawrie

28th November 2019 at 9:46 am

She said she was crying – proof conclusive that someone must have done something wrong.
So no point, and indeed no need, to ask David. A brute of man too insensitive to notice she was “crying” would undoubtedly also have raped her without noticing.

She got pissed, opened her legs and did not feel good about it next morning. Or David intimated that wedding bells were not in the air, and she has nursed a grievance ever since, instead of taking responsibility for her own conduct. No doubt David will be hit with additional charges if, when questioned, he cannot remember a thing about it. But her inability to remember will be paraded as proof of the charge.

Jerry Owen

28th November 2019 at 12:04 pm

I believe swabs are needed to help obtain proof of someone that’s suffered from a bit of rapey, I wonder how many lecturers are qualified to take swabs from female students !

Ven Oods

28th November 2019 at 9:34 am

Same as my reaction to these stories. How the hell do a bunch of academics and their administrators ‘investigate’ allegations of rape?
Perhaps the police were too busy giving lectures that week? Someone’s got to spread the word about non-criminal hate incidents, after all.

Mark Houghton

28th November 2019 at 9:09 am

I went to the University of Birmingham in the 1980s – where my expectation was that they would help me to get a good degree and not act as a private police force. How things have changed.
I have every sympathy for all victims of rape and other violence – I am a listening volunteer with The Samaritans so I’m not some knuckled dragging neanderthal. If you’ve been attacked GO TO THE POLICE

Jerry Owen

28th November 2019 at 8:11 am

This is an absolutely astonishing story !
And just what is ‘a bit rapey’ in technical terms ?

Mark Houghton

28th November 2019 at 9:20 am

A ‘bit rapey’ is one of those terms like ‘unwelcome’ ‘harassment’ or ‘toxic’ – it means whatever the person wants it to mean – and they won’t actually define what they mean because then they could be challenged and they don’t want that. They don’t want to be challenged in, say, a court of law but they’d rather have other inexperienced bodies acting as judge, jury and executioner working to way WAY lower standards of evidence and proof. Funny that.

M Blando

4th December 2019 at 6:50 pm

Yes (I know I’m a bit late to this thread), unfortunately there is a gray area. Elsewhere there’s been a story about men who initiate a ‘nice’ sexual experience only to turn nasty half way through after concent has been given. There is the possibility to lassie mudered by her Tinder date did exactly this. The discomfort of not having spelled out “Yes, I consent to sex with you excluding this long list of clauses and sub clauses” must be a nasty wilderness place to find yourself in. I’m surprised any woman consents to sex today given the risks and the status of the crime (so inconsequential it’s the sames as stealing a bottle of whiskey – see commenter elsewhere on this thread). I think all women should carry a T&C and get the man to read and sign it first… then it would be clear to everyone.

M Blando

4th December 2019 at 6:52 pm

Consent… and the lassie murdered… large fingers, small buttons.

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