Harassment and Sexual Misconduct Policy

The following guidance and procedures have been designed to work alongside the University procedure for handling cases of harassment and sexual misconduct.

The College has a separate complaints procedure under which students can raise complaints about College academic and non-academic provision.

Downing College has adopted the University’s Code of Conduct in respect of Harassment and Sexual Misconduct and affirms its commitment to providing an environment that is free from harassment and discrimination, and the right of all members to be treated with dignity and respect.

The College will treat any allegation of harassment or sexual misconduct of a student by another student seriously, and the Code of Conduct and procedures described here apply to all students.

Students are expected to take responsibility for their own conduct: the fact that a student against whom an allegation has been made was under the influence of alcohol or drugs at the time will not be viewed as mitigating the case.

If students believe that they have been subject to harassment or sexual misconduct by another student, they can do any or all of the following:

  • seek advice, guidance and support;
  • seek alternative resolution;
  • raise a complaint with the College or with the University (but not both).

Both the Complainant and the Respondent will be advised to think carefully about what information they disclose to others at all stages of seeking resolution of the matter, and will be given a copy of the College’s policy on the use of personal information. Students should ensure that they are aware of the limits that may be applied to the principle of confidentiality, including how any information they provide might be used at later stages of the procedure if the case is escalated to more formal, including disciplinary, procedures, or if it is reported to the Police.

Advice, guidance and support

Students who believe they have been harassed or been the subject of sexual misconduct are advised to seek support from the College or from the University. Students can seek advice from their College Tutor or another point of contact within the College.

Students may also seek independent support and information from the Cambridge University Students’ Unions’ Advice Service (SUAS). Sexual assault and rape are criminal offences, and Complainants will be supported to come to an informed decision as to whether to report such an incident to the Police.  However, if the Complainant decides not to report the incident to the Police, neither the College nor the University will require them to do so. No inferences will be drawn from the Complainant’s decision not to report the incident to the Police.

In exceptional circumstances, where the facts as they emerge give rise to concerns that there is a significant ongoing risk to members of the College or University community, or the wider community, the Senior Tutor may make an executive decision to refer the matter to the Police. The Senior Tutor will, in all but exceptional circumstances, inform the Complainant of their intention to report the matter to the Police, and their reasons, before doing so.

If, at any stage, Complainants feel that they are being disadvantaged or suffering reprisal from any member of the College, including the person they have made a complaint about, as a result of complaining about harassment or sexual misconduct, they should seek advice and guidance from the Senior Tutor or another senior member of the College.

Alternative resolution

In some cases relating to harassment, students who are unhappy with the behaviour of another student may want to try to resolve the matter themselves directly with the other student.

If seeking alternative resolution in this way, a student is advised to seek support on a confidential basis from a College Tutor, the Senior Tutor or another staff member, either to help them to work out what to say, or to accompany them when they meet the person they are complaining about. Because of the possibility of counter-accusation or recrimination, Complainants are advised to alert a supporting person, such as their Tutor, to the problem before approaching the person concerned, even if they feel able to take this action on their own.

Students should be encouraged to try to describe the behaviour very precisely, including where and when it happened.  Students should also make it clear how they feel about what has happened, and describe the effect it is having on them. Finally, they should be encouraged to say precisely what they want to happen going forward.

If a direct approach has been tried and has not worked, or if a student does not wish to make such an approach, the College Tutor or other College advisor may be able to seek to resolve the problem on their behalf. The College might also propose that both parties agree to co-operate with an independent mediator seeking to mediate – the University offers a mediation service that could be used (see Appendix A contained in the full policy here) in cases where the College is not able to provide a mediator.

If an attempt at alternative resolution has not resolved the issue to the satisfaction of the Complainant, the Complainant can raise a formal complaint to the College or to the University. However, there is no requirement that an attempt at alternative resolution has been made before a formal complaint is raised.

Raising a formal complaint

Complaints can be raised under either the College or the University procedures, but not both. All complaints about harassment or sexual misconduct, whether they are raised with the College or with the University, will be considered on a case-by-case basis as to which is the most appropriate procedure for consideration.

If the complaint is about harassment, students are normally expected to use a College procedure, and students at any College may use this procedure to raise a complaint about the behaviour of a student or students at Downing College. If the complaint is about the behaviour of a student at another College, it may be possible to raise it under that student’s College’s procedure; if this is not possible, the University’s procedure can be used to raise such a complaint.

Downing College and the University expect that complaints against students from more than one College, or involving members of a University club or society, would normally be raised under the University’s procedure because of the likely complexity of such cases.

Subject to the views and wishes of the Complainant, Downing College and the University anticipate that complaints about sexual misconduct will usually be directed to the University’s procedure.

The College will provide pastoral support, as desired, to any Downing College student involved in the University procedure, whether as a Complainant or as a Respondent.

How to make a complaint to the University

The University procedure and guidance documents describe how the Complainant’s complaint will be considered, and the possible outcomes.

The Head of the University’s Office for Student Conduct, Complaints and Appeals (OSCCA) will be able to answer any specific questions students or staff might have about the procedure and will endeavour to ensure that the students understand the procedure at each stage. OSCCA can be contacted on OSCCA@admin.cam.ac.uk.

How to make a complaint to Downing College

The full procedure can be found here. What follows is a summary of the procedure and further explanatory information about how it will be followed.

At all stages of the formal procedure, decisions on what action will be taken will be made by people who are trained to make those decisions. In deciding what, if any, action to take, Downing College will need to consider a variety of relevant factors including, for example: the evidence which is available to support an allegation of misconduct; any admission of responsibility by the person against whom the complaint has been made; the limitations of the College’s internal procedure in terms of obtaining and assessing evidence; and the need to safeguard the rights of both parties.

Bringing a complaint under the College’s procedure does not prevent the Complainant from reporting the matter to the Police at any time. If the matter is being dealt with under the criminal process, the College will normally suspend any action under its procedure, but may take precautionary action to ensure that a full and proper investigation can be carried out and/or to protect the Complainant, Respondent or others while the matter is being dealt with. Any precautionary measures are not intended to be punitive and do not make any assumptions about the merits of the complaint.

In reaching a decision on what action, if any, to take, Downing College may seek legal advice at any point in the process.

Complainants should make their complaint in writing to the Senior Tutor setting out details of the events that form the basis of the complaint, together with any evidence and, if appropriate, information on any attempts that have been made to resolve the matter informally.

The Senior Tutor will give initial consideration to the complaint before a decision is made on whether it will be referred for investigation. Some cases may not be referred for investigation, but instead the Complainant will be asked to seek alternative resolution of the matter, with support from their Tutor or another member of the College, or recommended to raise the complaint under the University’s procedures. The complaint may be dismissed or rejected because it does not fall under the scope of the College’s procedure ( see Appendix B contained in the full policy here).

The Complainant will normally be told the outcome of this initial consideration within 10 working days of submitting their complaint.


If the case is referred for investigation, a trained Investigator will be appointed by the Senior Tutor to try to establish as many undisputed facts about what happened as possible. The investigation will be conducted fairly and objectively. The Head of OSCCA is able to help with identification of a suitable external Investigator, if required.

If the parties are willing, the Investigator will meet separately with both parties and may also meet any witness to the events that are the subject of the complaint. The Investigator will then write a report and recommend a course of action.

Both the Complainant and the Respondent may wish to be accompanied during the investigation by a supporter, such as a Tutor, a member of CUSU, the Students’ Unions’ Advice Service or the JCR/MCR, or a friend. Given the nature of the types of complaints that will be considered under the College, rather than the University, procedure, it is unlikely that it will be necessary for either party to bring a legal advisor to any meetings held under the procedure. Students would not, however, be prohibited from doing so, and the respondent will be reminded before he or she meets with the investigator that they are entitled to seek independent legal advice. If a student wishes to take legal advice, this will be at their own expense.

In some cases, after discussions with the Investigator, both parties may agree that alternative resolutions should be explored through mediation. The University Mediation Service is available for students and may be useful in these cases ( see Appendix A contained in the full policy here).

Consideration of the complaint and possible outcomes

Following the investigation, the report and any recommendation will be considered by the Senior Tutor who may decide that:

  • with the agreement of both the Complainant and the Respondent, the parties should seek to resolve the matter through mediation or otherwise; or
  • resolutions should be proposed; or
  • the case should be referred for consideration under the College’s disciplinary procedure; or
  • the complaint should be dismissed.

Acceptance of a resolution will not require the Respondent to admit liability, nor imply that the College has made a finding of wrong-doing.

Resolutions might include asking the Respondent to abide by a conduct agreement. This might stipulate that the Respondent will refrain from contact with the Complainant, either indefinitely or for a specified period in the first instance. It might be necessary for the Respondent to move rooms. The Respondent may also agree to intermit, or to attend behaviour awareness training.

A record of a conduct agreement will be retained by the College and may be taken into account if a further complaint is made against the Respondent under this procedure, whether that subsequent complaint is made by the original Complainant or a different Complainant.

If the complaint is dismissed, the Complainant and the Respondent involved will be offered help and guidance to restore reasonable relations between them. This process might include mediation.

The Senior Tutor will keep both the Complainant and Respondent informed of the general progress of the complaint. Where a complaint under the College’s formal procedure leads to disciplinary proceedings, the Complainant will be kept informed of the progress of the proceedings and will be formally notified of the outcome of any disciplinary hearing and any sanctions applied to the Respondent that impact upon the Complainant.

If the Complainant is dissatisfied with the decision made using this procedure, they have the right to ask for a review of the decision. This review will be conducted in accordance with paragraph 6.4 of the procedure. If following the review the original decision is upheld, a Completion of Procedures letter should be issued to the Complainant to enable them to raise the complaint with the Office of the Independent Adjudicator.


The College Statutes provide that the maintenance of discipline in College is the responsibility of the Dean. More information on discipline in College is found here.  Disciplinary measures imposed by the Dean may include:

  • formal warnings
  • fines
  • requirements to desist from activities
  • prohibition from use of College facilities such as the bar
  • expulsion from College accommodation
  • expulsion from the College for short periods.

The most serious complaints or offences are dealt with by a Disciplinary Committee at the instigation of the Dean. The Disciplinary Committee comprises several members of the College Governing Body and may, at the request of the student who has been charged, include two junior members of the College nominated by the Master.

Any person in statu pupillari who is charged before the Committee may choose a Fellow to represent them. Ordinarily, but not necessarily, the Fellow is the student’s Tutor.

The Disciplinary Committee is empowered to impose more severe sanctions, such as temporary suspension, for a Term or year, or even permanent expulsion from the University.

A student against whom the Disciplinary Committee pronounces has the right of appeal to the Governing Body, on grounds as specified in the College Ordinances (see Ordinance 14).

Download the full Harassment and Sexual Misconduct Policy here.