Is SOAS failing its students on sexual harassment?
After numerous accounts of harassment came to light, students are demanding change in SOAS’ policies on Gender-Based Violence (GBV).
On 21st August an anonymous letter was published online, accusing a SOAS postgraduate student of mental and sexual harassment.
The letter, posted by the account ‘Speak Up against Sexual Harassment SOAS, contains three anonymous reports detailing how a student in SOAS’ School of Law, harassed and intimidated women.
It goes on to criticise the ‘flawed system of the SOAS institution’ that failed the victims, as it did not offer proper support and could not guarantee anonymity.
The letter was sent to ‘Account for this SOAS’, a Facebook group dedicated to addressing SOAS’ lack of adequate response to GBV. ‘Account for this SOAS’ told LS that they publicised the letter, circulating it among SOAS circles and over Facebook.
Moreover, the ‘Account for this SOAS’ campaign wrote a letter to the School of Law, asking to take action and commit itself to making the campus harassment-free.
The faculty and university management have not responded to the campaign regarding either the petition or the letter.
A SOAS spokesperson refused to comment on the specific case but said “We are committed to a zero tolerance approach to sexual and gender violence. SOAS must be a place where everyone can feel safe and where those who breach our community norms are held to account.”
Following the accusations, the SOAS Student’s Union banned the supposed perpetrator from S.U. spaces and made him step down from the role of president he occupied in a society. LS asked the SU to comment but they have not responded.
This case is not an exception.
A document published on the ‘Account for this SOAS’ Facebook page on 1st September, contained the personal accounts of five other incidents of gender-based violence perpetrated by SOAS students or professors.
According to the campaign’s petition, SOAS has recorded zero formal complaints between the years 2011-2018. The petition attributes this to a fear of “social stigma, apprehension of danger and inaccessibility of institutional redressal mechanisms”.
SOAS’ complaints procedure is divided between an informal stage, where the complaint is mediated by the Head of Department, and a formal one, where the Information Compliance Manager assigns an investigator to deal with the complaint.
The campaign claims that victims/survivors were being discouraged from redressing their complaints through formal procedures.
Moreover, the complaints procedure entails for the school to reveal the complainant’s details, therefore not protecting their anonymity.
The petition demands a change in SOAS’ policies to be more victim-oriented, involve independent committees to investigate GBV cases and to protect the anonymity of victims/survivors.