Higher education institutions in Northern Ireland have pledged to end the use of non-disclosure agreements (NDAs) to silence victims of sexual harassment.
Queen’s University, University of Ulster, Stranmillis University College, St Mary’s University College and The Open University in Northern Ireland have all signed the pledge, which commits universities not to use legally binding NDAs Against students and staff who come forward to report abuse, amid fears victims may be coerced into signing agreements that prevent them from speaking out and protect the reputation of perpetrators.
Welcoming the pledge, Economy Minister Gordon Lyons said: “I believe that sexual harassment and bullying is totally unacceptable and complainants should never be bought off or silenced simply to protect the reputation of the company. institution they study or work in. Non-disclosure agreements make it harder for other victims to come forward and help hide perpetrators behind a cloak of anonymity.
“Although there is little evidence of the use of NDAs in higher education institutions in Northern Ireland, I still fully support the Can’t Buy My Silence campaign’s aim to end this practice, which is why I wrote to local colleges asking them to sign the pledge.
“I salute the collective leadership shown by the higher education sector in Northern Ireland in signing a pledge which demonstrates their clear opposition to buying the silence of victims.”
Jo Clague, Registrar and Chief Operating Officer at Queen’s University Belfast, said: “The health and wellbeing of our students and staff is a key priority at Queen’s, and we have put in place strong policies to ensure that those who study and work at Queen’s do so in a positive and safe environment.
“Our support of the Can’t Buy My Silence campaign underscores our commitment to ensuring that the university is a safe place for students and staff. Allegations of sexual misconduct, harassment or assault made by the Queen’s staff or students are fully investigated under the university’s Bullying Program and Harassment Complaint Procedure.”
Damian McAlister, Director of Human Resources at Ulster University, said: “The University of Ulster is committed to protecting the dignity and well-being of its staff and students by ensuring a welcoming, inclusive and safe to study and work. The university fully supports the Can’t Buy My Silence campaign and is now publicly registered as an institution that will not use nondisclosure agreements. By signing the pledge, we further demonstrate our commitment to supporting and protecting our students and staff.
John D’Arcy, Director of The Open University in Northern Ireland, said: “At The Open University, the well-being of our students and staff is our priority, which is why we are fully and support the Can’t Buy My Silence campaign to not use legally binding NDAs against our students and staff who come forward to report abuse. The university has a zero-tolerance stance on sexual harassment and bullying and will work proactively to educate students and staff on the procedures and support available for those who come forward to report abuse.”
A spokesperson for NUS-USI said: “This is fantastic news, and all credit goes to the committed activists and brave people who have spoken out against these underhanded tactics for so long. The use of NDAs does not that make it harder to create safe campuses for all, and the student movement strongly welcomes this move by NI’s higher education sector to ensure victims of sexual harassment and bullying are no longer silenced. ”