AU to establish new independent body to handle abuse and harassment

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Within a month, Aarhus University will establish a new independent body to handle abuse and harassment complaints from students.

2018.03.02 | Marie Groth Andersen

Pro-rector Berit Eika. Photo: Anders Trærup

Sexual harassment at AU    

In connection with the three latest study environment surveys, AU investigated how many students have experienced sexual harassment.

0.7 per cent of students responded in the affirmative in the most recent survey from 2017, corresponding to about 100 students.


On Monday 26 February, Omnibus published a story about a former AU student who was sexually harassed by a teacher. After the incident, she had trouble figuring out who she should contact to report the incident and where she could get help in dealing with it.

A few weeks ago, 48 anonymous students sent an open letter to the rectors of the Danish universities accusing their universities of failing to take sexual harassment cases seriously. 

READ MORE: Where do I go for help?

In response to recent debate on how universities handle abuse and sexual harassment cases, Aarhus University has decided to review its guidelines and procedures for handling these cases, says Pro-rector Berit Eika.

“We discussed the issue with the student associations, and we have appointed a fast-track committee to review the existing rules and procedures and submit a report to the senior management team within a months’ time,” says Eika.    

An independent body

The members of the committee are from AU’s Educational Law team, the four faculties and the Student Council.

Eika is already in a position to announce that the university is working to establish an independent body students can contact if they experience sexual harassment or other forms of misconduct or abuse. 

“We have to ensure easy access to a body students can feel secure contacting, and where their anonymity is guaranteed. And it has to be a body which handles these cases professionally and efficiently,” Eika states. She stresses that students must still have the option of contacting the head of their department or another member of academic staff.

However, ensuring independence and anonymity on the one hand while also ensuring that AU can handle these cases effectively on the other hand is not an easy balance, explains the pro-rector.    

Completely unacceptable

Eika emphasises that the university – and thus its employees – have an obligation to encourage students who are victims of criminal offences to report them to the police and assist them in doing so.

“But our responsibility is greater than that. We also have to be able to help students move forward, for example by helping them get psychological counselling or investigating possibilities for exemptions,” says Eika.

“And I would like to stress that abuse is completely unacceptable,” she adds.

The student who came forward about sexual harassment committed by a teacher made the point that if the university claims to have a zero-tolerance policy in relation to abuse, then there have to be real consequences for the perpetrators. Are consequences also something you will be considering?

“Yes, that’s part of the review of the rules which is in progress right now. We’re also examining AU’s disciplinary rules.”

Is a ban on sex between teachers and students also something the management will discuss?

“Yes, we’ll be discussing that. Personally, I think it’s inappropriate to get personal matters mixed up in an academic relationship.”

Eika hopes to announce more concrete details about the new body within a month’s time.    


 

READ MORE: Where do I go for help?

Translated by Lenore Messick


Sexual harassment at AU

In connection with the three latest study environment surveys, AU investigated how many students have experienced sexual harassment.

0.7 per cent of students responded in the affirmative in the most recent survey from 2017, corresponding to about 100 students. 


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