Internal Report Reveals Mishandling of Sexual Harassment Complaints by UCD Societies Council

A confidential report obtained by the University Observer has revealed that sexual harassment allegations made in 2014 should not have been handled by UCD Societies’ Council.The internal report, completed in October 2016, was requested from the office of UCD Students Complaint Policy, and related to a meeting that took place in July 2014 in which two students came forward to make a formal complaint regarding the conduct of a particular society member.As well as addressing how the complaint should have been handled, the report offers recommendations to help ensure that a good process is in place for handling complaints. Several of these recommendations have not been followed through.The complaints the two students wished to make related to bullying and sexual harassment. The complainants had both claimed to have experienced “inappropriate behaviour” from the alleged harasser.UCD Societies’ Council organised a meeting to better understand the nature of the complaint. The report says the students should have instead been directed through the appropriate channels under the Dignity and Respect Policy. The report states: “There should have been no involvement of the ACCRSS (Academic Council Committee for the Recognition of Student Societies)… and, in particular, the meeting… should not have taken place.”At the time of the meeting, UCD Societies’ Council operated under the ACCRSS. According to the ACCRSS’s operating procedures of the time, the ACCRSS were to deal with complaints relating to societies, but not complaints relating to harassment. UCD Societies’ Council now function as part of the Student Activities Committee, along with the Athletic Union and the Students’ Union.The report found that students involved did not know how to proceed with their complaint, and states that the student body needs to be made aware of how to submit a formal complaint on sexual harassment through the Dignity and Respect Policy. The report adds: “The University must share in the responsibility for [the] lack of clarity on how to submit a formal complaint of sexual harassment.”The report highlights the students’ “determination that what happened to them should not be allowed to happen to others.” Multiple recommendations were made in the report for the university to implement going forward.One of the first recommendations was that the university should provide a written apology to the two complainants. Both complainants have confirmed to the University Observer that they have not yet received an apology, despite the matter having arisen in 2014.Additionally, the report recommended that the training for auditors and committee members of clubs and societies should include presentations about university policy on sexual harassment. In these presentations, the report says it should be emphasised that “Clubs, Societies, the UCD Societies’ Council and the UCD Athletic Union have no authority to investigate Dignity and Respect… or to control the manner in which such investigations take place.” Several auditors have confirmed to the University Observer that such guidance was not given at auditor training and that they are unaware of how to handle complaints of this nature.The report raised several questions about the number of similarcomplaints that have been raised in UCD, and suggests that UCD “compile the total number of student written complaints of sexual harassment during the 2015/2016 academic year” that were submitted under the Dignity and Respect Policy, and via UCD Societies’ Council and UCD Athletic Union, as well as the number of complaints through UCD Residences.By examining the number of complaints made, “the University can come to an informed view on the efficacy of policy to receive complaints of sexual harassment by students in the correct manner – and for the University to make any changes and enhancements required.”Information received by the University Observer under the Freedom of Information Act 2014 revealed that five complaints were made in the 2015/2016 academic year under the sections of bullying, harassment, and sexual harassment in the Dignity and Respect Policy. UCD Residences received three complaints of sexual harassment during this period. There were two complaints of bullying, harassment, or sexual harassment the following year, and as of December 2017 there had been no complaints this academic year. As the UCD Societies Council and Athletics’ Union is a separate entity to UCD, UCD could not provide information on complaints made to them, if any.The report also recommends that UCD “should continue to look to international best practice in the reporting of harassment,” and recommends examining utilising modern technologies. “At a minimum a technical solution such as a mobile-app would allow students to bypass a potentially complex set of policies and give them direct access to the correct contact for sexual harassment complaints.” No plans have yet been announced by UCD to implement technology-based methods of making complaints, but it has been confirmed to the University Observer that such methods are being investigated.Students who have experienced sexual harassment can contact the Students’ Union Welfare Officer, Eoghan Mac Domhnaill, or UCD Student Advisors who can refere students to the appropriate channels.The University Observer reached out to UCD Societies' Council for comment, but no response had been provided by the time of publishing. Additional reporting by Nathan Young.