When an Oxford PhD student, Harriet, complained that she’d been sexually assaulted by a fellow student, she expected Balliol College to investigate.

However, Harriet then discovered Balliol is one of several colleges at Oxford University to have a clause in their policy which means they don’t have to investigate her complaint. Harriet also claims the college put the emphasis on her behaviour, not the student she says assaulted her.


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As part of Degrees of Abuse, Al Jazeera’s Investigative Unit sent Freedom of Information Requests 125 British universities. The documents expose the broader scale of just how few complaints result in any action being taken, especially for students.

In total, 125 out of 164 universities responded to Al Jazeera's request for information, revealing 1,403 student sexual misconduct complaints were reported over the period 2017-2020. The documents show only 487 out of 1,403 of all student sexual misconduct complaints were investigated. Out of those that were investigated, 309 led to no further action by the university.

The documents also show only 35 out of 252 of sexual misconduct complaints against staff were investigated. In several cases where the victim filed an official police report, universities said they intended to do a full investigation pending the result of the police inquiry. However, most complaints that were dropped by the police were then not investigated by the universities.

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Degrees of Abuse

26 Oct 2021

Degrees of Abuse

A two-year investigation reveals how British universities are failing to protect their students from sexual harassment by senior academics or other students.