Disclosure scheme ‘could be game changer’ for tackling harassment

Universities urged to join initiative that shares details of disciplinary processes between employers

February 2, 2024
Source: iStock

Universities are being urged to sign up to a global monitoring scheme that campaigners say could be a “game changer” for preventing known sexual abusers moving between institutions.

The Misconduct Disclosure Scheme picks up perpetrators who have had disciplinary processes completed against them, or who are subject to ongoing investigation, but who may not have committed crimes or been investigated by the police.

Experts believe that higher education institutions have long faced problems with staff moving between institutions during investigations into gender-based violence or harassment – an issue known as “pass-the-perpetrator”.

“It’s extremely concerning when staff suddenly move institutions during an investigation into sexual misconduct as it allows them to continue such behaviours with impunity,” said Anna Bull, the director of the 1752 Group set up to address sexual harassment in higher education.

“But this is unfortunately a common occurrence. And I’m aware of cases when whistleblowers have been sued for defamation when they have tried to raise concerns with hiring institutions in these circumstances.”

Launched in January 2019, the scheme is designed to complement other vetting processes, such as police checks. It is currently implemented by more than 240 organisations worldwide, including two United Nations agencies and charities such as Oxfam and the British Red Cross.

Dr Bull, a senior lecturer in education and social justice at the University of York, said its use in higher education would provide a simple way to share information about sexual misconduct disciplinary investigations – including internationally – between higher education institutions.

“While it’s not going to solve the problem of sexual misconduct once and for all, if enough institutions sign up to join, it will be a game changer in making sure serial perpetrators can’t continue their behaviour with impunity,” she added.

Campaigners said signing up to the scheme would demonstrate a public commitment to addressing the problem and reduce the risk of gender-based violence and harassment in an institution, by supporting safer hiring decisions.

Between 2019 and 2022, 60,900 checks were carried out via the scheme globally, with 230 hiring processes affected by the scheme.


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