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Blog - Cambridge University students demand lower burden of proof for sex crimes

Cambridge University is considering lowering burden of proof for disciplinary cases, after claims that sexual predators are getting away with their crimes.

Students complained that the current system “actively discourages” survivors and victims of sexual assault from coming forward, while implying that perpetrators are unlikely to face consequences from the university.

Currently the university relies on the criminal standard of proof, beyond reasonable doubt, for all disciplinary cases other than ones relating to fitness to study.

But students have called for decisions to be based instead on the civil standard of proof, the balance of probabilities.

Cambridge University has previously admitted that it has a “significant problem” with sexual misconduct after receiving almost 200 complaints in a matter of months.

Over 800 students have signed an open letter to Cambridge’s vice-Chancellor, Professor Stephen Toope, which said that “upholding a criminal standard of proof actively discourages survivors and victims of sexual harassment, rape and assault from engaging with the disciplinary procedure”.

Students said that changing the disciplinary system “will give survivors and victims of sexual assault more confidence to access it”.

They added that proving cases of sexual assault beyond reasonable doubt “places undue stress” on complainants.

“By requiring cases to be proven ‘beyond reasonable doubt,’ the University is implying that there is unlikely to be consequences for perpetrators in disciplinary cases pertaining to sexual misconduct, unless the survivor goes to the police,” the letter said.

Students told Prof Toope that the criminal standard of proof “places undue burden on someone who has experienced a traumatic event”.

They went on: “We ask that the balance of probabilities be adopted for all cases under the disciplinary procedure in the hope it will give survivors and victims of sexual assault more confidence to access it.”

According to a document, released as part of a consultation into the disciplinary process, the university’s discipline review committee are now proposing a change to the standard of proof required for misconduct claims.

“It is noted that there has been an open letter to the Vice-Chancellor from the Cambridge University Students’ Union’s Women’s Officer requesting, amongst other things, a change in the standard of proof for student disciplinary cases,” the consultation document said.

“The Review Committee on Student Discipline are of the view that if the student body wants the University to use the balance of probability as the standard of proof when considering allegations of student misconduct  then this should be accepted by the University community.”

In February, the University revealed figures of sexual misconduct complaints, after launching an anonymous reporting system which has also been adopted by other institutions.

The majority of the 173 complaints – 119 – were allegations by students of misconduct by other students. Two students have made complaints about staff and seven staff members have complained about the action of colleagues.

Graham Virgo, Professor of English Private Law and Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Education at the University of Cambridge, said at the time:  “It supports our belief that we have a significant problem involving sexual misconduct – what we now need to ensure is that those who have been affected receive the support and guidance they need.”

Alongside the anonymous reporting tool, Cambridge launched a Breaking the Silence campaign in October last year and that is credited with prompting the second largest spike in reports in the University’s history.

The university has introduced an official sexual liaisons ‘register’ to record relationships between academics and students in a crackdown on harassment and misconduct.

The university said that its new policy actively “discourages” affairs between staff and students. It will insist that academics who risk a conflict of interest will have to disclose relationships with students to the university. They then will be barred from teaching those students or marking their work.

source:https://www.telegraph.co.uk/education/2018/05/09/cambridge-university-considers-lowering-burden-proof-claims/