Greater Manchester universities agree to sign pledge ending gagging clauses which ‘silence’ sex assault victims
A number of universities in Greater Manchester have agreed to sign a Government-backed pledge to end the use of non-disclosure agreements (NDAs) to “silence” victims of sexual harassment.
It comes as the higher education minister, Michelle Donelan, called for a ban on using legally binding contracts to stop students and staff from speaking out in cases of sexual misconduct and bullying.
The minister said she expects the “shabby practice” to be stamped out on campuses across the UK as she said sexual harassment complainants should never be “bullied into silence” to protect the university’s education.
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Several universities across the UK including Exeter, University College London (UCL) and Cambridge have publicly committed to the pledge already.
The M.E.N asked the University of Manchester, Manchester Metropolitan University, Salford University, and Bolton University if they would be signing the government pledge.
A spokesperson for Manchester University said: “At the University we take the issues of bullying, sexual harassment, and sexual assault extremely seriously.
“This kind of behaviour will not be tolerated and goes against our institution’s core values. We will be happy to sign this Government-backed pledge.”
A Manchester Metropolitan University spokesman said: “At Manchester Metropolitan University sexual misconduct of any kind is treated very seriously and dealt with under the appropriate staff policies and procedures, the student code of conduct or reported to the police where appropriate.
“We will be happy to sign up to the pledge.”
The University of Bolton said: “As yet the University has not been approached in relation to such a pledge.
“But if we were to be, the University of Bolton would, as it always does, give serious consideration to any initiative which is in the best interests of our students.”
An NDA is contract signed by parties who agree not to disclose information covered by the agreement.
They became a particularly controversial topic during the #Metoo movement, where the contracts were criticised as being used to silence victims of sexual misconduct and harassment.
A 2020 BBC News investigation found nearly a third of universities had used non-disclosure agreements to silence student complaints about sexual misconduct, bullying and harassment.
Universities who sign up to the pledge will be listed on the #Can’tBuyMySilence’s website – a campaign set up by former Harvey Weinstein aide Zelda Perkins and Canadian law professor Julie Macfarlane to end NDAs.
Last month, the University and College Union warned that British universities were failing to tackle “endemic” levels of sexual violence on campuses.
The union has also called on institutions to scrap the use of NDAs, stating that some universities have sought to protect their own reputations before getting justice for victims.
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The pledge, backed by MPs and campaign groups, commits universities not to use NDAs against students and staff who come forward to report abuse.
Higher and Further Education Minister Ms Donelan said: “Sexual harassment is horrendous and complainants should never be bought or bullied into silence simply to protect the reputation of their university.
“Such agreements make it harder for other victims to come forward and help hide perpetrators behind a cloak of anonymity.
“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, which is why last year I wrote to vice-chancellors making my position clear.
“Several university leaders have signed a new moral contract to end the use of Non-Disclosure Agreements against students and staff, and I call on other vice-chancellors to do the right thing and follow their lead.”
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