Skip to main content

Safe Education letter Friday 7 June 2024. 

Statement on behalf of Jeremy Cook, Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Colleges and Wider Student Experience.

Published: Wednesday 12 June 2024.

The University has been in dialogue with Safe Education since becoming aware of its existence on Friday 17 May 2024. The group is a stand-alone protest group not affiliated with the University or with Durham Students’ Union.   

Durham University is always willing to listen to ways in which we can further develop our approach to tackling Sexual Misconduct and Violence (SMV).  For several years we have engaged with our student members through our Sexual Misconduct and Violence Management Group. 

Following their participation in student consultation on upcoming policy changes, we arranged for the founder and Executive team of Safe Education to meet with a specialist Sexual Misconduct Prevention and Response Manager in our Student Support and Wellbeing team. She spent several hours in discussion with them listening to their views and setting out our approach to this important issue. 

The University then received a copy of an open letter from Safe Education on Friday 7 June 2024, which, we understand, had also simultaneously been sent to the media. The open letter raises several concerns. 

The group’s concerns are outlined in the table below, along with the University’s response to each.   

We always welcome the opportunity to work collaboratively with our students to make Durham an even safer place to work, live and study. In the interests of transparency, we have three elected student representatives on our Sexual Misconduct and Violence (SMV) Management Group. 

We will also invite the students leading Safe Education to one of our future SMV Management Group meetings and will contact them directly to arrange this. We look forward to seeing how they can contribute to our important work in this area. 

A summary of Durham’s approach to Sexual Misconduct and Violence. 

  • Durham University has one of the most developed infrastructures for responding to reports of Sexual Misconduct and Violence amongst Higher Education Institutions in the UK.   
  • We have, for some time, committed to our community that we will promptly investigate, take action and provide support when our students disclose or report instances of sexual misconduct or violence to us. 
  • This approach has seen an increase in cases reported to us. Our community – students, staff and visitors - is growing in confidence that we act appropriately in response to such reports and promote a reporting culture.  
  • Through our Sexual Misconduct & Violence Management Group (previously SMV Operations Group and established in 2016/7), we are focused on making Durham a safer place to live, work and study. We have an extensive programme of activity aimed at prevention of sexual misconduct and violence and provision of appropriate support.  
  • Students are informed of how to report matters of sexual misconduct and violence during induction week. Our Report + Support posters and slides on screens across the University are displayed year-round. Increased reporting rates is a sign of progress in improving reporting culture and helping students and employees access support.   
  • In 2016, we were the first UK university to appoint a full-time, dedicated Student Support and Training Officer (Sexual Violence and Misconduct), now the Sexual Misconduct Prevention and Response Manager.  
  • In 2020, Clarissa DiSantis, our Sexual Misconduct Prevention and Response Manager, and Professor Graham Towl, professor of forensic psychology, formerly Chair of our Sexual Violence Task Force and now Associate Pro-Vice-Chancellor (Colleges and Student Experience), published Addressing Student Sexual Violence in Higher Education: A Good Practice Guide and in 2023 published Stopping Gender-based Violence in Higher Education: Policy, Practice, and Partnerships 

Concerns and requests from Safe Education Open letter and the University’s response to each. 

Concerns and requests. 

 University response. 

An Improved Consent Education: Make the existing Consent Course enforceable as well as compulsory.  



The existing Consent Matters: Boundaries, Respect, and Positive Intervention course is compulsory and just one part of the education training pieces available to our students during their time at Durham. We recognise the concern to ensure it is as widely delivered as possible. 


The completion rates have not been 100%, as we have faced some challenges in the past when making courses mandatory for students.  


However, we acknowledge this concern and our SMV Management Group will work to make this happen in future for the Consent Matters course. 

A Centralised Support System (CSS) for Tackling Harassment and Sexual Violence. 

Durham University offers SMV support in its colleges, departments and central student support services.  A student can disclose to any of these three components in our student support system. College and department benefits from SMV trained staff supported by the central student support team.  


In the central team there are seven specialist Sexual Misconduct and Violence case managers and investigators. They respond to and investigate reports received from students received either directly or through colleges or departments. 


We also provide direct access to counselling through a full-time contract with a specialist Rape and Sexual Assault Counselling Centre. This ensures anyone who needs support has access to a trained specialist in this area and does not have to join the external community waiting list. 


One Advocate System for Survivors. 

There is an advocacy service for students who report cases of Sexual Misconduct and Violence offered by Durham Students’ Union. 


Durham University does not operate an advocacy model, instead investing in case managers and investigators. Each College contains trained Student Support staff. They are able to liaise with mental health and disability support as well as help students navigate adverse circumstances. 


We have regular conversations with other Higher Education institutions who employ the advocacy model and are happy to continue our dialogue on this in more detail.


We also engage in the existing wider networks within UK Higher Education in this area. 

Clear Signposting and an Accountability List.

Section 9 of our current Sexual Misconduct and Violence Policy: Procedure for Students outlines what types of behaviours may be considered non-major or major breaches and outlines the types of sanctions that may be used for each type of breach.   


The University has not produced a more specific ‘tariff’ of sanctions given the inflexibility this would generate. Aggravating and mitigating factors are important in relation to SMV sanctions and having pre-determined sanctions would limit the ability of the University to take these into account. 


A Clear Non-Retaliation Policy.  

Our Sexual Misconduct and Violence Policy clearly identifies retaliation as a form of misconduct in section 4.5. It states: 


“Retaliation may constitute any words or actions, including intimidation, threats, or coercion, made in response to disclosures or reports made under the Sexual Misconduct and Violence Policy, by any individual including both the Responding Party and the Reporting Party, as well as witnesses, friends, or relatives.” 


Any retaliation would not be tolerated and would be pursued under the policy specified above.  


The University can confirm it does not use Non-Disclosure Agreements (NDAs) to silence victims of sexual misconduct, violence, or harassment.