University of Exeter signs pledge to end use of gagging orders to silence sexual assault victims
The University of Exeter and five other UK universities have signed a pledge backed by the government to stop using Non-Disclosure Agreements (NDAs) in sexual assault cases.
NDAs are legal contracts that prevent people from sharing confidential information. The government has called on over 150 universities to stop using them to silence students and staff who come forward to report sexual assault, harassment, or bullying. So far, UCL, Cambridge, Goldsmiths, Keele, and Buckinghamshire New University have also signed the pledge.
“I am determined to see this shabby practice stamped out on our campuses”
The pledge follows investigations carried out by the BBC that found UK universities had spent £87 million on NDAs between 2017 and 2019, and that nearly one-third of universities had been using them to resolve student complaints.
Minister for Higher and Further Education, Michelle Donelan, said:
“Sexual harassment is horrendous and complainants should never be bought or bullied into silence simply to protect the reputation of their university.”
“The use of Non-Disclosure Agreements to buy victims’ silence is a far cry from their proper purpose, for example to protect trade secrets. I am determined to see this shabby practice stamped out on our campuses.”
On her decision to sign the pledge, University of Exeter Vice-Chancellor, Professor Lisa Roberts said:
“The University of Exeter is committed to not using Non-Disclosure Agreements to silence people who come forward to raise complaints of sexual harassment, abuse or misconduct, or any form of harassment and bullying.”
“We take our duty of care towards students and staff very seriously […]. We have not used Non-Disclosure Agreements in student cases for many years.”
“We have developed consent training for all students, an innovative Bystander Intervention training programme to be delivered in 2022, a £25k fund for student-led projects to support gender safety initiatives and we have recently been awarded Home Office Safety of Women at Night funding to work with our local partners to improve safety at night in the local community.”