The Justice4Sanaz campaign along with feminist academics and activists have put together this statement in relation to the recent revelation concerning domestic assault committed by Dr Lee Salter, a senior lecturer in Media and Communications at the University of Sussex. Please find the full statement enclosed below. We invite academics and activists from around the world to sign and take a stance against institutional misogyny within British higher education.
On Friday 12th August 2016, The Independent published a piece indicating that Dr Lee Salter, a senior lecturer in Media and Communications at the University of Sussex (UK) gruesomely assaulted his partner and former student, Ms Allison Smith earlier this year. The piece further explained that Dr Salter had “punched in the face [Ms Smith], knocked out and stamped on, [….] had salt poured into her eyes and ears.” The photographs that were published in The Independent’s piece speaks volumes about the horrific violence and trauma that Dr Salter inflicted upon Ms Smith.
Despite pleading his innocence, Dr Salter was convicted on the 13th July 2016 of assault by beating and causing criminal damage to belongings at Brighton Magistrates’ Court. Dr Salter received a 22-week jail sentence suspended for 18 months, was ordered to complete 150 hours of unpaid work and issued with a restraining order not to contact Ms Smith. The light sentence that Dr Salter received speaks of the disproportionality in how Black, Asian and minority ethnic British (BAME) are treated within the British criminal justice system versus that of a white man with professional status.
What is truly telling in this case is the woefully callous and negligent response from the University of Sussex. During the 10-month period between his arrest and conviction, Dr Salter was permitted to teach, despite the fact that the university was aware that he had committed a violent crime against Ms Smith. Meanwhile, it was reported that Ms Smith was so traumatised by the gross maltreatment and abuse that she received from Dr Salter that she was too afraid to leave her house.
Despite the fact that Dr Salter was convicted of assault by beating, he continued to remain on the payroll of the University of Sussex. It was only when The Independent began to pose further questions that Dr Salter’s employment status changed. He was suspended from teaching by the University of Sussex around the time when The Independent went public with case. As a result of the tremendous public outcry, as evident from a Change.org petition that was set up on the 12th August 2016, that has amassed over three thousand signatures and growing, did the University of Sussex finally terminate Dr Salter’s employment.
Counsellors who supported Ms Smith during the trial indicated that the University of Sussex had displayed a “concerning lack of care for the safety and welfare of its students”. Gail Gray, chief executive of RISE, a domestic abuse charity in Brighton, UK said that the abuse inflicted upon Ms Smith, “…is not a romantic ‘Educating Rita’ scenario. This is about a man who abused and exploited his position of power and authority to perpetuate domestic abuse.”
While the British media fixates on the fact that Ms Smith was a former student at the University of Sussex, we must also stress that the gruesome abuse that he committed would be no less so if the victim had been a sex worker or in any other consensual relationship with him. Dr Salter used his professional status in order to cultivate an emotionally and physically abusive relationship with a young woman, while the University of Sussex colluded by keeping silent about this abuse in order to protect its reputation and image as a progressive institution. In protecting Dr Salter, the University of Sussex committed gross negligence in terms of procedures concerning sexual harassment and gendered violence, endangering the lives of all cisgender and trans women and putting their personal safety at grave risk by continuing to allow him to teach.
As we have seen before, it is not uncommon for institutions, be they political organisations, governmental bodies, schools and universities, and companies to actively use bureaucratic structures to maintain silence concerning sexual harassment and gendered violence in the workplace.
The Trade Union Congress of England and Wales (TUC) recently found from a survey of 1,500 women, more than half of women respondents have been sexually harassed at work. The same study also found that some 79% of women who were victims of sexual harassment did not tell their employers. 24% of those who had been victims of workplace sexual harassment declined to report abuse because they felt that they would not be believed or taken seriously while 20% said that they were too embarrassed. The head of the TUC, Frances O’Grady added, “I think the most worrying fact from these findings is the number of women who simply don’t feel able to report [sexual harassment].”
In the case of universities, when women have come forward to challenge sexual harassment on campus, they have been met with enormous barriers and hurdles as a result of bureaucratic structures that work to protect the perpetrators of sexual violence, not the victims. It is understandable that victims of sexual violence are afraid to come forward- precedent has shown time and again that an institution will close ranks to protect the perpetrators of sexual violence, especially those who occupy senior lecturers and professorship positions. Early this June, Professor Sara Ahmed resigned from her position at Goldsmiths, University of London, citing cases of sexual harassment committed by her former colleagues to students that were repeatedly ignored by university officials. As Professor Ahmed stated,
“When I talk about the problem of sexual harassment I am not talking about one rogue individual, or two, nor even a rogue unit, nor even a rogue institution. We are talking about how sexual harassment becomes normalised and generalised- as part of academic culture.”
What Professor Ahmed alludes to is exactly the same as what Paula Nicolson, emeritus professor of health and social care at Royal Holloway University said over a year ago, following misogynistic comments made by Nobel laureate Sir Tim Hunt against women scientists at a the World Conference of Science Journalists in June 2015, where he stated:
“Let me tell you about my trouble with girls. Three things happen when they are in the lab: you fall in love with them, they fall in love with you, and when you criticise them, they cry.”
After much protest by women scientists that elicited the viral hashtag, #DistractinglySexy, mocking Sir Hunt’s sexist remarks, did University College London decide not to reinstate him as an honorary professor. In the aftermath, Professor Nicolson recalled the daily sexual harassment that she and women students experienced within British university culture, which included, “…the use of gratuitous images of overweight, underdressed women or unnecessary comments about female patients in lectures.”
Professor Nicolson recalled during a “another all-male meeting”, where a “senior male chair started joking about the physical appearance of a female singer, and others joined in. They seemed to treat it as a bonding experience. Anti-women remarks and behaviours occur in many such formal situations.”
If a woman objects to misgoynistic comments in the Ivory Towers, Professor Nicolson indicates that a woman lecturer may “risk making powerful enemies.” It is precisely the fear of making “powerful enemies” that keeps most cisgender and trans women scholars who have experienced sexual harassment and gendered violence in the closet, afraid of losing their jobs and what little professional security that they may have.
Recently a campaign has been set up called We Want Truth, Goldsmiths, comprised of a group of students independently investigating the sexual-harassment cover-ups at Goldsmiths, University of London. There would be no need for such campaigns if institutions actually followed their procedures regarding sexual harassment in the workplace, instead of colluding to protect and/or ignoring sexual violence within the Ivory Towers.
But sexual harassment and violence committed within universities are just one aspect of the way misogyny is institutionalised. The intersection between institutional misogyny, neoliberalism, racism, and the exploitation of women in British higher education is plainly and painfully evident in the following statistics. The 2011 Equality in Higher Education report found that 76% of all UK professors are white men. Despite numerous equality initiatives, women lecturers in British higher education continued to be paid £6,103 less than their male colleague per year. More women and especially Black women and women of colour find themselves in casualised academic positions, repeatedly denied the opportunity for secure and permanent full time employment. As the Why Is My Curriculum White? campaign has often stated, out of 18,500 professors in the UK, only 85 are Black and of those only 17 are Black women. This sobering statistic illustrates the embedded misogynoir and woeful levels of discrimination in British higher education that continue to marginalise and isolate Black and women of colour academics and researchers.
At a time when cisgender and trans women, particular Black and women of colour, such as Sisters Uncut, are fighting against the British state’s misogynistic laws and policies that work against working class and migrant women, the battle against and opposition to institutional misogynistic violence within British higher education needs to be taken up with renewed strength..
We as academics, activists, independent researchers, and most importantly as feminists strongly believe that it should not have taken over ten months and a national media story to have prompted the termination of Dr Salter’s employment at the University of Sussex. We also believe that the University of Sussex is equally at fault for allowing Dr Salter to resume his teaching and pastoral duties in light of the fact that they knew he had committed a violent assault, in particular to one of their students, endangering other cisgender and trans women. We additionally demand the following:
1. We strongly demand that Dr Salter not be hired to teach at any other university, whether in the United Kingdom or abroad. We also demand the following
2. That the University of Sussex and other British universities revisit and thoroughly revise their procedures of dealing with gendered violence and sexual harassment.
3. We demand that all British universities conduct thorough background checks on prospective employees to include asking prospective employees references about any inappropriate conduct of the person and specifically about sexual harassment and/or assault.
We pledge to set up a nationwide independent coalition against sexual harassment and gendered violence in universities to investigate these matters fully, including institutional transparency and accountability and information-sharing openly within and across institutions. This would include developing a nationwide support network for students and university staff who experience gendered violence and sexual harassment
Please sign and share this statement via a Google Form that has been set up here: https://goo.gl/forms/xAZzMCSXWh8c9Xh82