First Oxbridge college signs up to Government pledge on gagging clauses

Lady Margaret Hall College at Oxford has vowed not to use non-disclosure agreements.

Catherine Lough
Wednesday 27 April 2022 11:47 BST
(PA) (PA Wire)

The first Oxbridge college has signed up to a Government-backed pledge on ending gagging clauses in cases of sexual misconduct and bullying.

Lady Margaret Hall College at Oxford University, which was accused by a student of imposing a “blanket gagging clause” to prevent her from speaking out after she alleged she was violently raped by another student, has become the first Oxbridge college to sign up to a pledge not to use non-disclosure agreements (NDAs).

The student told The Times earlier in April that Lady Margaret Hall warned her not to say anything about the alleged attack to the press or on social media, and that “publishing material in the press will result in expulsion from Lady Margaret Hall”.

On Wednesday, the college announced it had signed up to a pledge not to use NDAs in the case of sexual misconduct and bullying, launched by higher and further education minister Michelle Donelan earlier this year.

The pledge is backed by MPs and campaign groups such as #cantbuymysilence.

Professor Christine Gerrard, interim principal of Lady Margaret Hall, said: “We are committed to ensuring that Lady Margaret Hall offers a safe, supportive environment in which everyone can thrive, and we take our duty of care towards our students and staff very seriously.

“The overwhelming majority of our students do have a positive experience but in the small number of cases where incidents of harassment or violence sadly occur, it is important that victims feel confident and supported to speak out and report unacceptable behaviour,” she added.

She said that the support of the college’s governing body for the pledge was part of an “ongoing process of reform” to strengthen its safeguarding procedures.

“This includes a root and branch review of our non-academic misconduct procedures, led by a working party of student representatives and independent specialists, and in consultation with the anti-sexual violence group It Happens Here,” she said.

The college was also reviewing its reporting procedures for sexual harassment and sexual violence in order to help address under-reporting.

“I hope that LMH’s signing of this pledge will demonstrate our commitment to tackling the problem of sexual violence and misconduct, and increase the confidence of our students in the help and support that is available to them.”

The LMH student who alleged rape reported that Alan Rusbridger, the college principal between 2015 and 2021, had imposed a “blanket gagging clause” on her regarding the incident, and said that his “insistent querying” at a meeting where she asked the college to investigate the incident had reduced her to tears.

She subsequently made a legal claim against the college, accusing it of negligence.

Michelle Donelan, minister for higher and further education, said: “Following the horrific claims about a rape victim being silenced by Lady Margaret Hall College it is welcome that the college leadership has committed to stepping up and ending this deplorable practice. But this must be the first step in rebuilding trust with staff and students.

“Now is the time for other Oxbridge colleges to stop dragging their feet and pledge once and for all to never buy victims’ silence.”

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