Degrees of Abuse – Al Jazeera reveal chilling stories of university abuse in new podcast series

Andrew Walsh

In a new six-part podcast series titled “Degrees of Abuse”, Al Jazeera’s Investigative Unit reveals major flaws in the way some of the UK’s top universities deal with complaints of sexual harassment, allowing academics to continue teaching despite multiple complaints about their behaviour.

Lead reporters Alex Howlett and Deborah Davies quickly discovered that sexual abuse was rampant among both the student and staff bodies of universities, and uncovered a nationwide institutional determination to ignore the problem across the UK. The investigation, which lasted over two years, is a harrowing listen.

With this investigation, Al Jazeera has given these brave women a voice and empowered them. As reporter Alex Howlett explains in the first episode, “to speak out against the combined power of a world famous academic and ancient institutions is daunting, but for some, it’s time to highlight the impact on women’s lives”.

The series began on October 19th and has investigated stories of abuse in the University of Oxford and the University of Glasgow, where established professors admired in their fields have been revealed to be abusive towards multiple female students. Despite these cases of abuse by men in power against women they mentored being reported, no justice has been seen by the victims.

Degrees of Abuse is extremely well produced, balanced between victims recalling past traumatic events and background context for listeners. Underscoring the very real threat of sexual abuse faced by many university students across the UK and the lack of justice they receive, the podcast is urgent and compelling. What the series succeeds at is uncovering the implications of how this played out without the public knowing, and how the experiences ultimately affected these students’ lives.

The podcast is also not just a important listen that’s hard to walk away from though, as throughout the series, Al Jazeera’s Investigative Unit also offers vital reporting to help vulnerable people, and goes beyond the demands of the narrative by providing resources for those experiencing similar situations.

Both Deborah Davies and Alex Howlett welcome all tips and stories from those who have experienced something similar and hope to follow up on their investigation, which they believe is just the tip of the iceberg.

With videos, audio and articles featured in this investigation that all manage to handle the serious topic with respect, it is clear that a lot of time, work and care were put into this new series by the Al Jazeera’s Investigative Unit.  What’s less clear is if the stories of women featured throughout the series are, within the larger cultural landscape, truly being heard.

The final two episodes of the podcast series will be released on November 2nd on all podcast streaming platforms, and the full investigation can be accessed on Al Jazeera’s Investigative Unit website

Andrew Walsh

Image Credit: Al Jazeera’s Investigative Unit