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Experiences

My Experience Reporting Sexual Misconduct to the University

May 2021

From the very early stages of reporting, I knew I wanted to share my story. Before I was anywhere near an outcome, I was desperate to be able to consider it a success; not just for myself, but for all the other survivors who don’t know whether reporting is worth it. I wanted a story that could encourage others to come forward, that could restore some faith in our disciplinary system, that could give insight into what the process actually entails. As of right now, I don’t know whether or not I’ll get that story, but I know I plan to share it regardless. 

Present-Day

Five months on and I am finally in a position where I can write about this. Despite how long I’ve known I wanted to put an article out, sitting down to type it still isn’t easy. My head is full of questions of what is too much or too little to say, what is helpful or harmful to read, and what you’ll be thinking come the end of this. There’s no easy way to make these decisions, but what I’m keeping at the centre of this is that I want to be honest. I think I owe that to myself, and to anyone else who has been through a situation similar to mine. 

When I was in my first year of university, I started seeing a guy who was in the year above me, but four years my senior. Our relationship quickly evolved from something casual into more murky territory, and there were many ways in which things became toxic. After a long COVID-19 summer, we ended up splitting, which turned out to be the best decision I had made all year. Once I was on my own, I started to unravel everything that had happened over the previous 10 months. The contrast between how happy I was now and how distraught I had been then was alarming, and I realised there was a lot more beneath the surface that I had to work through.

Later on that year, I happened to meet someone else who had previously been close to him and had since distanced herself, too. We got talking and found out that we had both had experiences where he had ignored our boundaries sexually, and the coincidental nature of our meeting highlighted how many other women he could have treated this way. Independently, without talking together, we both made the decision to call Student Services within two days of each other. If it had only been my personal experience I had to deal with, I never would have considered reporting, but knowing someone else had been put through the same pain as I had made his behaviour feel inexcusable.

When I reached out to Student Services, I was quickly put in touch with a counsellor and the Disciplinary Officer. Within a week, I had a meeting with each of them, one to discuss how I was handling things emotionally, and the other to answer my questions about the formal reporting process. By this time, a year had passed since the most traumatic instances had occurred, and I didn’t feel like I needed much in the way of emotional support. The offer of counselling from Student Services was always there, but the onus would be on me to arrange this if I felt I needed it. Since I was doing pretty well in terms of my mental health, I only had one additional meeting to discuss my feelings, and other than that I focused on creating my formal report.

There were multiple ways in which I could have gone about this, but I chose to give a verbal statement to the counsellor, and then a written document to disciplinary. My friend decided to report using the Report + Support Tool, which meant she had less direct contact with staff when making her official report. Throughout this time I was told that the option to go to the police would always be available to me if that was what I wanted. However, since I didn’t feel I would have enough evidence for this to be worthwhile, I decided only to report to the University.

After giving my verbal statement, I was sent a written copy which I could amend to ensure they recorded the details accurately. The document I then submitted included written accounts of the situations I was reporting, photos of texts and selfies which evidenced these, and a list of people who could corroborate my story. All I had to do was compile this information and email it to the student conduct team, which would handle the process from there.

One thing which was troubling to know during this time is that the reported party (i.e. my ex) would be made aware of everything I included in this document. This was fairly uncomfortable considering the personal nature of what I had written, but my unease was somewhat mitigated by a non-contact order being put in place. This meant that from the time he was made aware that he had been reported, he was under strict instruction to make no contact with anyone he thought could be involved. Breaching this could risk him facing more significant disciplinary action, which made me feel a bit better about making the report.

A couple of weeks after writing everything up, I was informed that the disciplinary team had set up a meeting to discuss the contents of the report with him. This was a meeting which I could not attend, and that would provide him with the opportunity to view the evidence and give his side of the story. For confidentiality reasons, I was not told what was said at this meeting, I could only know their broad next steps for handling the case.

During this time I was quite stressed at the prospect of him finding out. Since he knew where I lived, I chose to stay with a friend for a couple of days just in case he got aggressive and tried to find me. Student Services offered to arrange alternative university accommodation for me, but I felt more comfortable having a short stay with friends. He never did try to reach out, but knowing how unstable he was, I felt safer with a bit more physical distance between us.

After this initial meeting, the pace at which things were moving slowed down. The disciplinary team took a further 10 weeks to gather and review the information submitted from myself and the other relevant parties I had listed. During this time, I became somewhat impatient because of how little I knew about what was going on. I didn’t understand why multiple weeks were necessary for reviewing the information, and although the student conduct team tried to explain why, it was still somewhat nerve-wracking having to wait.

The next major movement in the case was when I was told that a date had been set for a Stage 3 Disciplinary meeting. This news was massive for me, as Stage 3 is the most severe stage outlined in the Non-Academic Misconduct Policy, with the possibility for expulsion on the table. This did not guarantee anything, but it felt massively validating to have the severity of the situation acknowledged and I became anxious to hear the result. Similarly to the initial report meeting, I was not present for the final hearing, but I was told I would hear the outcome within five working days. 

I received an email on the fifth working day informing me that his studies had been terminated.

This news was massively overwhelming and I broke down crying on my break at work. I had been hoping for so long that this would happen, but tried to suppress it because of how unlikely an outcome it seemed. Sexual misconduct cases are notoriously hard to substantiate, and in the past six years at St Andrews, only three other reports have resulted in the termination of studies. When I began the process, all I had hoped for was that I would have to see this person less often, and I was so thankful that my expectations were exceeded.

My experience is in no way a guarantee of how these cases are handled universally, and I want to make it clear that all encounters with this system are equally valid. I felt uniquely positioned to share my story because of how comfortable I am discussing it, but that doesn’t mean everyone else feels the same as I do. 

The decision to report is deeply personal, but I can honestly say that I am so glad I did it. Knowing that there is one less predatory person in this town is an immense relief, and I sincerely hope that more people may have the satisfaction of feeling that.

Charlotte is a 3rd year English & Psychology student from Glasgow with dual citizenship in the United States. Founding Co-President of EmpowHER St Andrews, she is passionate about fitness, feminism, and lifting other women up. This year she is looking forward to expanding the ways in which she can have a positive impact through her writing.
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