‘I am happy to accept further training is needed’: UCL ‘Report + Support’ and their self-admitted negligence

Rebekah Wright

Content warning: discussions of sexual assault and rape

All the people in this article have been given pseudonyms to protect anonymity. This includes the UCL ‘Report + Support’ caseworkers. If the pseudonyms overlap with the real names of other caseworkers at ‘Report + Support’ this is purely coincidental. 

Earlier this year, The Cheese Grater published an article regarding the abhorrent treatment of one student by ‘Report + Support’ – UCL’s service for reporting bullying, harassment, and sexual misconduct. Since then, we have been contacted by a multitude of survivors of sexual assault at UCL who have also divulged their terrible experiences with ‘Report + Support’. Disappointingly, Cameron is not the only student to have been belittled and victimised.

It was after her first two years at UCL that Alex first encountered ‘Report + Support’. Her first experiences with it were surprisingly positive. She explained to The Cheese Grater that she had been in an abusive relationship throughout her first two years of university and had acquired a restraining order against her ex-partner through ‘Report + Support’.

Alex spoke glowingly of the employee she had communicated with and the measures they proposed to have put in place, having reportedly told her ‘we can even make it so that if both of your cards tap into the same building an alert will go to security and they will come and separate you’.

Despite this incident revealing the true capabilities of ‘Report + Support’ when they properly employ their services, Alex’s succeeding experiences would only reveal the complete incompetence exhibited by most of their staff when investigating a reported student.

‘In my third year, I was raped’, Alex told The Cheese Grater. Like many victims of sexual assault, it took some time for Alex to conceptualise the severity of the situation. However, after some support from her friends, she came to realise that what had happened was more serious than she had initially recognised. 

Explaining that she ‘couldn’t concentrate’ over the 2022 Easter break because she kept having flashbacks to the incident, Alex bravely made the decision to move her dissertation deadline to the Late Summer Assessment period and interrupted her studies at UCL. ‘I was like, ‘there’s no fucking way I’m doing seven exams I haven’t revised for’’, she told us. 

It was her interruption of studies that propelled Alex towards ‘Report + Support’ as she had to explain why she needed to interrupt as  part of the administration process. Deciding that she would report the student once she felt ‘slightly more mentally stable’, her first port of call was UCL’s Student Support and Wellbeing (SSW) team. 

‘They were really good with that’, Alex admitted, as they provided her counselling with Rape Crisis South London, a charity that offers therapy to victims of rape across the city. Alex ended up having thirty sessions at Rape Crisis South London. Since this happened whilst she was interrupted and no longer a student, she explained that ‘[she] doubt[ed] whether [she] could have had counselling through UCL’ and so was grateful that SSW referred her to an external organisation and paid for the sessions.

After a year of receiving genuine help from the ‘Support’ side of ‘Report + Support’, Alex felt confident enough to report the student who had assaulted her. In Spring 2023, she started speaking with a caseworker, Gemma, who ‘responded really quickly at first’. 

Gemma clarified the process to Alex, telling her she would have to produce a witness statement and submit what evidence she could – this would involve several dated photographs she had in her camera roll. However, soon after they began corresponding, all communication from Gemma suddenly ceased. Alex would not hear back from the casework team until she chased them three months later. 

Alex told The Cheese Grater that, shockingly, she had been motivated to contact ‘Report + Support’ again because ‘the person [she] was reporting had messaged [her]’. As she maintained, ‘it’s their fault the student contacted me in the first place’ because ‘if the case had not been dropped after July, I might have been saved from having to interact with him’. However, because of the incompetence of ‘Report + Support’, Alex was forcibly and unwillingly put back in contact with her assaulter whilst trying to recover.

Alarmingly, Alex had also been dissuaded from sending follow-up emails because there was an automatic reply on the casework inbox reading, ‘if you already have an ongoing case with us, there is no need to send chaser emails’. However, this was blatantly untrue. If Alex had not followed up, it seems like her case may never have been reopened or would have at least remained dormant for several more months.

This is because, after she sent a chaser email, ‘they replied the next day being like, ‘oh sorry that caseworker went on maternity leave’ and I was like, ‘okay it’s been three months did she not handover?’’

It’s shocking that the administrative structure of  ‘Report + Support’ is so poor that they have no protocol in place to protect students when staff leave or are reshuffled. Instead, they put the burden on Alex to reignite the conversation, even though they are paid to manage the reporting process and instructed her not to follow up.

This shortcoming is negligent enough in itself, but unfortunately for Alex, this was to be only ‘the first ridiculous thing that happened’. 

Having picked the case back up, a second caseworker, Stephen, initially brought Alex some deserved good news. In an email seen by The Cheese Grater Stephen confirmed that:

‘We are about to reach out to [the reported student] to advise him that we intend to take this before a full disciplinary panel as the allegations would constitute a major disciplinary offence.’

Whilst it was frustrating that ‘Report + Support’ transitioned from essentially ignoring Alex to taking her case to a panel within 24 hours, she was glad that things had finally gained some forward momentum. 

Over November and December 2023, the casework team began contacting the reported student, but Alex explained that ‘he was delaying the whole process with solicitors’. She went on to say that in discussions with caseworkers, they told her that ‘it’s being questioned at the moment whether they should let students use solicitors and have legal support, because [the ‘Report + Support’ process] is meant to be internal’. 

Either way, the situation for Alex was undoubtedly unfair. Her whole case was being hindered once again, this time by external legal processes. ‘I didn’t have solicitors’, she told The Cheese Grater, ‘but obviously some people can afford that’. This significant barrier to inclusivity within ‘Report + Support’ means that wealthier students can improve their position by obtaining external support that’s inaccessible to other students.

In December, seven months after the initial report, Alex was then contacted by a third caseworker. ‘It’s like a revolving door!’, she explained to The Cheese Grater. The third case worker, Sophie, arranged a Microsoft Teams call with Alex to catch up on what had happened so far, effectively placing Alex back at square one. 

The call was arranged at 10:00, but Alex explained that Sophie ‘was over twenty minutes late to this call and only joined when I asked them if we were still having a meeting’. Alex had to chase twenty minutes later, leading to the call occurring half an hour late. Sophie and Alex called again after the Winter break in January to edit her statement. Sophie was also half an hour late to this meeting, ‘which I think is shocking. I’ve never been late to a work meeting in my life’, Alex said. The professional services offered by ‘Report + Support’ are obviously subpar – employees are paid to attend those meetings during working hours, so it’s inexcusable that they would frequently be late with no valid excuse. 

She went on to explain that ‘in both of these calls, Sophie asked me to recall details which were necessary but also triggering’. Alex noted that ‘lots of [the caseworkers] are ex-police’ – whilst The Cheese Grater cannot necessarily confirm this to be a fact, it did pertain to Sophie. Alex described Sophie as very ‘ex-police-y’, ‘insensitive’, ‘jaded’, and ‘cold’. Not only was Sophie’s time-keeping terrible, but her demeanour seems to have been inappropriate for the job she does. 

If ‘Report + Support’ had responded to Alex’s report in a timely fashion, had better procedures for case handovers, and had properly assessed the professional demeanour of their staff, then Alex could have avoided having to continually relive the trauma of her assault. However, she told The Cheese Grater that ‘no support options were suggested to me to help me deal with the emotions and flashbacks that were provoked by the process of writing the statement’. The Cheese Grater was told by UCL Media Relations that Alex could have returned to Rape Crisis South London during this time but her testimony seems to suggest that this was not made clear to her.

In mid-January, Alex was finally able to sign off on the completed statement. As part of the process, Alex also submitted photographic evidence that included ‘photos of bruises on my neck that were consistent with my completed statement’. These photos were dated.

In early February, Alex heard back from Stephen, who sent her the outcome of the completed investigation. This was nine months and three caseworkers after she initially filed the report. In the attached PDF seen by The Cheese Grater it was written:

‘We have not been able to find any independent, verifiable evidence that clarifies any of the discrepancies in the statements or supports one version of events over the other […] As such, there is insufficient evidence for the disciplinary hearing to be able to make a decision on whether misconduct has or has not occurred.’

Obviously, Alex was appalled. She had submitted dated photos to support her case; this is likely far more tangible evidence than many victims of sexual assault are able to provide. It’s completely nonsensical that ‘Report + Support’ staff would consider this unverifiable. ‘I would like to know in other, similar cases at UCL’, Alex said, ‘how often is there independent verifiable evidence? How often are rapists allowed to get away with their crimes?’

Since the reported student left Alex with multiple bruises, she rightfully asserted that it should ‘at least [be] considered as a case of battery’. But even this blatant fact went unacknowledged by ‘Report + Support’. 

A concluding statement in the decision outcome stated that ‘this does not mean that you were not believed, but merely that we were unable to establish what has occurred to the appropriate threshold’. However, as Alex observed, the inability of ‘Report + Support’ to even take the case to a panel suggests that they ‘clearly do believe the reported party over [her] and are not taking [her] case seriously’. Either that, or the caseworkers simply don’t care enough to provide Alex with justice. Both outcomes exemplify the gross incompetence of ‘Report + Support’.

Having previously been told multiple times in writing by Stephen that the case would go to a panel, Alex requested to speak to his line manager. Alex explained that the manager, Elise, was ‘newer’ and has only been in her position ‘about four months’, suggesting that perhaps she was more responsive to Alex’s concerns because she was still finding her feet in the job.

Alex proceeded to grill her on the negligent treatment she had received from ‘Report + Support’, asking questions like, ‘do your staff have mental health first aid training?’. To which Elise responded ‘no’. The Cheese Grater was told by UCL Media Relations that all SSW staff have mental health training and that most of the casework team also do, with those who don’t being set to ‘receive it soon’. However, arguably the casework team should receive such training before starting the job. Similarly, it is also strange that Elise would respond to Alex’s question inaccurately. 

When Alex asked about why Stephen had said multiple times the case would go to a panel when it did not, Elise told her that ‘they were given misinformation’ and that ‘they shouldn’t have said that’. 

This is absolutely evident from the inept behaviour exhibited by the majority of ‘Report + Support’ workers in Alex’s case, but what is most abhorrent is that these workers are employed in posts that require the delicate handling of incredibly sensitive material in the most professional way. 

The decisions they make and the way they behave affect students who have been victims of sexual abuse, harrassment, violence, and bullying, so it’s shocking that they seem unequipped to deal with the sensitivity these incidents require. It’s even more appalling that they are so incompetent that they continuously spew ‘misinformation’. 

In one seriously worrying incident, Alex reported that she asked Elise: ‘if I had been beaten up with no witness but I had photos to prove it, would it go to a panel?’ to which Elise replied, ‘yes’. Then Alex said, ‘okay, well, that’s basically what happened, but there was also sex’ to which Elise supposedly interjected to say, ‘okay, well, we were just discussing hypotheticals’. 

This begs the question of why sex changes the way an incident might be viewed within ‘Report + Support’. Indeed, Alex questioned if they are ‘just slut-shaming everyone who reports sexual misconduct?’

Alex explained that Elise ‘told me at the end of the call, ‘I suggest you submit a formal complaint’. It is testament to the brokenness and incapacity of ‘Report + Support’ that one of the senior managers would suggest making a direct complaint against the service. 

In her complaint, Alex asked for the process to be restarted since ‘clearly these people are incompetent […] if you can’t even turn up to a meeting on time and you’re giving me misinformation’. She convincingly observed that ‘there seems to be a lack of training’. Once again, the reporting process was taking up vast amounts of Alex’s time.

The outcome of the complaint will either be that ‘I do it all again or nothing happens, neither of which are great options’, Alex admitted; ‘it’s like a part time job!’ Fortunately, Alex is still part of the UCL community and so has direct access to ‘Report + Support’, but the process is so long and convoluted that many students might have graduated and returned home if they were even lucky enough to get a response from ‘Report + Support’ – Alex also divulged that ‘one of [her] friends said that she reported something and she just never heard back’.

When submitting her complaint, Alex had to resubmit her evidence. When asked in the online form if she had submitted it all and her reasons for omitting parts, she wrote that she had submitted most of it, but if they needed anything more, they could contact her. ‘I’m not sitting here slaving away over this for any longer’, she concluded.

Having gone through the SSW as part of ‘Report + Support’, Alex was then forced to continually relive the experience in the ‘Report’ side by continuously relooking at the evidence. ‘It’s a bit of a nightmare’, she summarised. ‘They are actually doing an awful job’.

Eventually, Alex received three official responses to her complaint from Stephen, Sophie, and Elise that were seen by The Cheese Grater. Alex would then need to sign off on the factual accuracy of these statements. However, she explained to us that ‘some of these are opinions and I can’t say whether an opinion is correct or not.’

Alex accurately describes Stephen’s statement as ‘contradictory’. He explains that the statement produced by the reported student in conjunction with solicitors provided ‘evidence and testimony’ that ‘far outweighed anything [Alex] had supplied’. Firstly, since Alex had neither the time nor financial resources to write a statement with solicitors, of course the reported student’s testimony was going to be more professionally assembled. However, Stephen then goes on to directly call Alex a ‘victim’ in a later part of the statement.

Similarly, Stephen makes the point that Alex ‘said she couldn’t remember details and wasn’t very forthcoming in her answers’. However, Alex explained to The Cheese Grater that ‘I was talking about the worst thing that’s ever happened to me to total strangers so I feel like that shouldn’t be that surprising’.

Both Stephen and Sophie assert that the photos Alex provided ‘were not time stamped’. However, Alex argued that ‘I spoke to Sophie for three hours and she never said that the photos need to be time stamped and, also, there’s timestamps in the metadata of the photos, so that was dumb’. Seemingly, Stephen is blaming Alex for something that was never illuminated to her. ‘I can’t believe they didn’t bring that up’, Alex said, ‘because if there was a certain format that they were meant to appear in, then they should have said’. 

In her response, Sophie argues that she is ‘experienced with dealing with victims who had been through traumatic experiences that were difficult to speak about’ but Alex’s experiences with her clearly don’t reflect this at all. She, like Stephen, also implies Alex is a ‘victim’. 

Sophie spends most of the statement explaining that she questioned Alex in a way that was ‘gentle and approachable’, that Alex never displayed ‘any feelings of being uncomfortable, distressed, or disappointed with [their] interactions’, and that Alex declared she was not ‘inconvenience[d]’ by Sophie’s tardiness to the first Teams call. 

However, none of this is particularly convincing. Just because Alex did not appear distressed it does not mean that the incident was not traumatic for her to recall; it clearly was. In fact, Sophie also blatantly admits in her statement that ‘[Alex] explained to me that she found it very difficult to recall the incident in detail as she had spent a long time trying to forget about it’. 

Similarly, just because Alex was not inconvenienced by Sophie’s first incident of lateness, it does not mean that being late to a work call is acceptable. Even if Sophie was having ‘trouble with [her] internet’ at that time, she does not address the fact that Alex claimed she was repeatedly late for several calls. Similarly, she explained that she was ‘having some trouble… sending Teams messages’ but replied to Alex’s chase message only four minutes after she had sent it. 

By far the most nonsensical part of both Stephen’s and Sophie’s responses is the argument that ‘if [‘Report + Support’] could not make a decision, then a panel would also struggle to reach a verdict’. (This quotation is taken from Stephen’s response seen by The Cheese Grater, but the same thing is echoed almost verbatim in Sophie’s). Surely the caseworkers aren’t supposed to be making the decision? That’s the panel’s job. By refusing to take Alex’s case before one, the caseworkers are essentially usurping the panel’s power and fulfilling that role themselves. 

If the caseworkers are not properly trained, spread misinformation, and deserve to have complaints made against them, as Elise implied to Alex, then why should they be considered equipped to decide whether the case should go to a panel?

Alex described Elise’s response as the ‘most factual’ and something she actually felt comfortable signing off on. In her response seen by The Cheese Grater, Elise stated:

‘I believe that there were avoidable delays in this case that have made this more difficult for [Alex], and I acknowledge that the email exchanges I have seen have given the impression that there would definitely be a panel. I am sorry this was communicated wrongly, and I am happy to accept further training is needed’.

It is so telling that the procedural structures of ‘Report + Support’ are so poor that those managing it are happy to admit that official complaints should be made and that the staff working there are undertrained and spread misinformation.  

The handling of Alex’s case has been utterly diabolical. It has unfolded in a way that has forced her to continuously chase ‘Report + Support’ because they are incapable of doing their job properly and contacting her. It has also forced her to relive the experience of her assault multiple times, despite having undergone therapy to try and ameliorate the trauma.

The staff at ‘Report + Support’ clearly have not taken her seriously, don’t really care about the outcome of her case, and exhibit terrible professionalism.  

Their lack of empathy and competence is inexcusable when working in such an important role and dealing with sensitive topics. We can only hope that basic training will be administered to the staff in ‘Report + Support’, so the outpouring of stories regarding their complete ineptitude will finally cease.

If you’ve been affected by anything that has been spoken about in the article, or want to speak about your personal experience, The Survivors Trust provides specialist support to those who have survived rape, sexual abuse, and sexual violence

In response to a request for comment Professor Kathy Armour, UCL Vice-Provost (Education & Student Experience), said:

“At UCL, we offer multiple ways for reporting bullying, harassment, and sexual misconduct to allow those who have experienced harm to choose the reporting route that feels safest and most appropriate for them.  

“Our Report + Support service is a way for students to contact an advisor and speak in person or make a report anonymously. The R+S platform is a means of directing a complaint to the appropriate UCL service and support mechanisms. This may include the Student Support and Wellbeing team, who provide a safe, confidential and non-judgmental space to discuss any issues, and can provide access to trained counsellors and psychologists, and referrals to specialist support with organisations, such as the Rape Crisis Centre.  

“Where complaints need investigating, our trained Student Casework team will work with the student to gather as much information as possible, and where behaviour has been found to breach UCL’s policies, disciplinary action may be taken through our own processes, and this may happen while criminal investigations are ongoing. The casework team has also recently appointed two Independent Sexual Violence Advisers, who provide dedicated support, tailored to individuals’ needs. All these UCL support services are available to students on an interruption from studies. 

“Since launching R+S in 2019, the number of students and staff making reports has steadily increased, with more than 900 reports in the last year and the percentage of anonymous reports has steadily decreased. While this level of reporting shows an increase in trust and confidence in the services we offer, we continue to work on improving our services so that we meet the needs of every person who seeks our help and support.  For example, we are currently improving our communication about R+S and the ways in which our aligned support services work together. We are also aiming to improve how we can better respond to the challenges presented by anonymous reports.

“In order to combat unacceptable behaviour at UCL, we fully recognise that reporting is essential to ensure students and staff have the best support, to investigate matters which do arise, and to ensure we have a positive work, study and community culture.”