Non-disclosure agreements and sexual harassment

A very important story.

Universities’ use of non-disclosure agreements (NDAs) in sexual harassment cases involving staff and students is allowing alleged perpetrators to move to other institutions where they could offend again, according to academics, lawyers and campaigners.

They warn that the prevalence of harassment is being masked because of the use of confidentiality clauses in settlements, which prevent any of the parties discussing what has happened.

Universities that find themselves at the centre of sexual harassment allegations are accused of prioritising their own reputations in an increasingly competitive higher education marketplace over their duty of care to vulnerable students.

3 thoughts on “Non-disclosure agreements and sexual harassment

  1. I agree that the story is important, but I think three things are worth pointing out. One is that the silencing effect of the agreement is compounded by the failure of hiring institutions to do due diligence. Many people will be aware that a complaint was filed, and a good enquiry ought to be able to uncover some indications, I would hope, that could be followed up on. Just the news that a complaint has been made and settled should be a huge red flag. Secondly, though I reluctantly agreed to my own silence at the close of a discrimination complaint I made to the federal authority, I could understand that a settlement is supposed to end the matter in some sense. If I had been able to sell the story to People next day, the settlement would surely have been pointless from everyone’s perspective but mine.

    In case anyone is tempted to insist that victims not sign non-disclosure agreements, let me say that that would really compound the burden on victims. It can easily take two years or more to reach a settlement, during which time one’s psyche, and so one’s life, is at least partially engaged with the issues. If the perp has some institutional power or respect, one can be put through a rollercoaster of semi-agreements that get rescinded. It is awful, and if silence is needed to end it, then agreement to that can be reasonable.

  2. Yes, “if the prep has some institutional power or respect, one can be put through a rollercoaster of semi-agreements that get rescinded. It is awful”. Without a non-disclosure agreement, it can take up to six years to get fully through and put the problem in the past professionally. So non-disclosure agreements can speed things getting back to normal. I opted for the six-plus years and no agreement. It was hard but the perp and others are afraid of me, and that I think has some effect on shifting the culture, changing what had become normal. Getting through it all required a pit-bill of a lawyer for those six years.
    Perhaps the lesson is that neither the non-disclosure way nor the way I responded is a good way forward. One hides the problem and the other is too costly for most of us. In both kinds of cases, it is too often women who pay the price. The shift in focus to the uni’s obligation to provide a safe environment seems like a giant step in the right direction.

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