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Data, disclosure and duties: balancing privacy and safeguarding in the context of UK university student sexual misconduct complaints

Cowan, Sharon; Munro, Vanessa E; Bull, Anna; DiSantis, Clarissa J; Prince, Kelly

Data, disclosure and duties: balancing privacy and safeguarding in the context of UK university student sexual misconduct complaints Thumbnail


Sharon Cowan

Vanessa E Munro

Anna Bull

Kelly Prince


The past decade has seen a marked shift in the regulatory landscape of UK higher education. Institutions are increasingly assuming responsibility for preventing campus sexual misconduct, and are responding to its occurrence through – amongst other things – codes of (mis)conduct, consent and/or active bystander training, and improved safety and security measures. They are also required to support victim-survivors in continuing with their education, and to implement fair and robust procedures through which complaints of sexual misconduct are investigated, with sanctions available that respond proportionately to the seriousness of the behaviour and its harms. This paper examines the challenges and prospects for the success of university disciplinary processes for sexual misconduct. It focuses in particular on how to balance the potentially conflicting rights to privacy held by reporting and responding parties within proceedings, while respecting parties’ rights to equality of access to education, protection from degrading treatment, due process, and the interests of the wider campus community. More specifically, we explore three key moments where private data is engaged: (1) in the fact and details of the complaint itself; (2) in information about the parties or circumstances of the complaint that arise during the process of an investigation and/or resultant university disciplinary process; and (3) in the retention and disclosure (to reporting parties or the university community) of information regarding the outcomes of, and sanctions applied as part of, a disciplinary process. We consider whether current data protection processes – and their interpretation – are compatible with trauma-informed practice and a wider commitment to safety, equality and dignity, and reflect on the ramifications for all parties where that balance between rights or interests is not struck.

Journal Article Type Article
Acceptance Date Apr 3, 2024
Online Publication Date May 3, 2024
Publication Date May 3, 2024
Deposit Date Jun 27, 2024
Publicly Available Date Jun 27, 2024
Journal Legal Studies
Print ISSN 0261-3875
Electronic ISSN 1748-121X
Publisher Cambridge University Press
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Pages 1-20
Public URL


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