On February 20th, the University Observer published an article detailing an investigation into how a member of UCD Societies dealt with complaints of sexual harassment.
Two students wished to make a formal complaint of bullying and sexual harassment by a society member, Matthew*. The report found that the staff member involved should not have organised a meeting which took place to discuss the incident, and that the students should have been informed of how to make a formal complaint through the Dignity and Respect Policy.
The complaint failed to enter the appropriate channels, and two years later, Matthew was accused of raping another society member, Jenny*.
Jenny reported the events of the night, which began at a society event, to the Gardaí, and attended the Rape Crisis Centre. She handed over screenshots of facebook messages (which have been seen by the University Observer) to the office of the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP). In the facebook messages, Matthew admits to non-consensual touching, but not rape.
Following an investigation by the Gardaí and taking into account the evidence from the Rape Crisis Centre and the facebook messages, the DPP deemed there to be insufficient evidence to take the case to court and dropped her suit.
While going through that process, Jenny was trying to find out how to make a complaint within UCD. Through the SU Welfare Officer, she was put in contact with a student advisor.
Her hopes at the time were “to pursue a complaint because I was very uncomfortable about the fact that this person was still, after the fact and after they had sent me texts admitting what he did, was still able to walk around on campus.”
During the meeting with the student advisor, Jenny was told she could make a complaint under the Dignity and Respect Policy, however, she never made that complaint. The Dignity and Respect Policy applies to UCD staff and students. At the time of the alleged incident, Matthew was an alumnus and society member, but neither a member of staff nor a student.
Jenny never moved further with making her complaint because “it didn’t cover, as far as I was aware, people who were former students, it had to be current students.”
Not all students who have experienced sexual assault or harassment are directed towards the Dignity and Respect Policy, as detailed in the internal report examined by the University Observer in the article on February 20th.
The report states that: “The University must share in the responsibility for [the] lack of clarity on how to submit a formal complaint of sexual harassment.” The report points out that students go through the process of “registration through to orientation and the process of integrating into university life,” information on how to make a formal complaint is not made clear during this process.
One student, Marion* who experienced sexual harassment in her on-campus residence reported the incident to Residential Advisors, and the matter was referred to residences management. The management organised a hearing in which the accused “vehemently denied being the male who trespassed into your apartment” and also maintained that he had a friend who would vouch for his whereabouts on that evening.
The complaint moved no further as the panel at the hearing were unable to establish which version of events were true. Marion was never informed during this process how to make a formal complaint via the Dignity and Respect Policy.
“I think I could have reported it through the Dignity and Respect policy but no one ever said that that was an option. It wasn’t until I started to look into it… thinking about how poorly that was handled that I realised that there actually is a policy.”
The internal report received by the University Observer makes reference to the need to examine how incidences of sexual harassment in on-campus accommodation are dealt with. Information sourced under the Freedom of Information Act 2014 revealed that UCD Residences received three complaints of sexual harassment during 2015/2016. 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.
The University Observer spoke to four RAs and SRAs (senior RAs) about how they are told to deal with reports of sexual harassment in on-campus residences. RAs are advised to bring the matter to the attention of an SRA and SRAs say their procedure is to report the issue to management. Residences management consists of three people, only one of whom is employed by UCD. When asked about the procedure for reporting sexual harassment no RA or SRA mentioned the Dignity and Respect Policy
In order to make the process of submitting a complaint under the Dignity and Respect Policy clearer, the internal report says “UCD should identify and adopt international best practice in the effective reporting of, and the use of technology in, sexual harassment cases.”
UCDSU Welfare Officer Eoghan Mac Dohmnaill says that an online reporting system is currently being looked into. A group is being led by the Dean of Students, Jason Last, “to consider many mechanisms to address issues associated with the ESHTE initiative, and that online systems [for reporting sexual harassment] will be looked at as part of the work of that group.” The ESHTE projects aims to combat and prevent sexual harassment and violence in third-level education in Ireland.
The most recent version of UCD’s Dignity and Respect Policy was approved by the University Management Team on June 20th, 2017.
The policy states that complaints “should be made within 12 months of the alleged incident(s) giving rise to the complaint or within 12 months from the date of the alleged last recurring incident.”
“The intention of the person against whom the complaint is being made (the respondent) is irrelevant. The fact that the respondent may not intend to bully/harass/sexually harass an employee or student is not a defence. The effect of the behaviour on the employee or student is what is relevant.”
The following are examples of sexual harassment listed in the policy:
“· Physical contact such as unnecessary touching, patting or pinching or brushing against another body, assault or coercive sexual intercourse
- Sexual advances, propositions or pressure for sexual activity, continued suggestions for social activity after it has been made clear that such suggestions are unwelcome, unwanted or offensive flirtations, suggestive remarks, innuendos or lewd comments
- The display of pornographic or sexually suggestive pictures, objects, written materials including posters, emails, text-messages, social media messaging or faxes
- Leering, whistling or making sexually suggestive gestures
- Conduct that denigrates or ridicules or is intimidatory or physically abusive of a person because of their sex.”
Students can make a complaint through the Dignity and Respect Policy through contact with student advisors. You can find your student advisor at ucd.ie/studentadvisers
*Not real names.
If you are affected by issues raised in this article you can contact the following:
Dublin Rape Crisis Centre at 1800 77 8888 (line open 24 hours a day) or drcc.ie
Niteline at 1800 793 793 (line open 9pm – 2:30am) or niteline.ie
Pieta House Tallaght at 01-6200020 or pieta.ie
Samaritans at 116 123 or samaritans.org