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Only four UK universities see sexual assault as ‘mitigating circumstances’

According to an investigation by babe on the The Tab, a student news website, as few as four British universities regard sexual assault as reasons for granting students mitigating circumstances.

52 universities in total were contacted for this investigation through Freedom of Information requests, but only 16 responded.

Of the 16 that did reply, all have a clause in their policies on extenuating circumstances for students who have been a “victim of serious crime” or similar, including sexual assault. However, only four universities explicitly cite sexual assault within their guidance.

As reported by the Independent, Oxford Brookes University told babe that they did not decide to list sexual assault or any other particular examples in their regulations because “the University believes that the regulations should reflect a very broad range of circumstances; from physical or mental illness, through family and other personal difficulties, to the impact of work on students’ studies.”

A petition was made by Birmingham students when a student was raped on their year abroad, failed their exams, and was refused extenuating circumstances. Since then, Birmingham officials have edited their policy on mitigating circumstances to include sexual assault as a circumstance that is significant enough to affect the academic ability of a student.

Other institutions such as Cardiff University and the University of Sheffield have also altered their guidelines after the backlash received by Birmingham.

University College London also expressly mentions “sexual assault” and “rape” within their policy on mitigating circumstances.

The University of Manchester policy on extenuating circumstances states that “grounds for mitigation are unforeseeable or unpreventable circumstances that could have, or did have, a significant adverse effect on the academic performance of a student.”

A spokesperson for the university told The Mancunion: “The policy then provides four examples of circumstances that may be deemed as mitigating but these are by no means exhaustive and individual applications are judged on a case by case basis.”

Izzy Gurbuz, Wellbeing Officer at the University of Manchester Students’ Union, also told The Mancunion: “Sexual assault is very likely to fall under that definition [unforeseeable or unpreventable circumstances that could have, or did have, a significant adverse effect on the academic performance of a student], and our Advice Service hasn’t seen any cases where the University has not considered sexual assault to constitute mitigating circumstances.

“There is sometimes, however, an issue around the requirement for evidence. The University often accepts letters from the Counselling Service or the Students’ Union Advice Service for a range of circumstances where appropriate, for example mental health problems. However there have been cases where mitigating circumstances panels demanded police reports from victims of sexual assault. This presents a real barrier to victims of sexual assault, as reporting rates of these crimes to police are low.

“Our mitigating circumstances policy is currently under review and I have proposed that evidence in cases of sexual assault is explicitly addressed.”

An anonymous student who has been a victim of sexual assault told The Mancunion: “It is not shocking to me that this is the case. Universities request evidence for illnesses, death of family members and if you have jury service on the day of that exam, so of course they would ask for evidence of sexual assault or rape.

“I hope the policy at Manchester changes so it includes victims like myself in their guidance and we do not suffer even more.”

Tags: extenuating circumstances, Manchester Students' Union, sexual assault, the tab, university, University of Birmingham, University Sexual Assaults

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