Leeds academic accused of “grooming” and “sexual harassment” in new Al-Jazeera podcast

New episodes of ‘Degrees of Abuse’, an Al-Jazeera Investigates podcast, have revealed that 6 women have made allegations of “grooming” and “sexual harassment” against a current University of Leeds academic. Dr. Ian Shaw, Associate Professor of Global Security Challenges in the School of Politics and International Studies, is accused of behaviour that made the women feel “dirty” and “humiliated” during his time working for the University of Glasgow.

Tayler, who was 19 the time of the alleged abuse and is the youngest of the complainants, claims that Shaw used his knowledge of her financial and mental health struggles to manipulate her into emotional dependency while she was studying as an undergraduate. She describes his behaviour as sinister as “he was in control”. 

Another undergraduate, Lauren, also 19, alleges that Shaw would compliment her physical appearance, telling her she had a “very symmetrical face”. These comments would become more explicit as she claims he would confess to her that he was no longer sexually attracted to his wife and allude to an interest in polyamory. In the podcast, Lauren states: “It made me feel like he was asking me if I wanted to have sex with him. Obviously, I very much did not.”

Esther, a student at another university who met Shaw at a conference, claims that he would send her suggestive pictures and that “he would be very strategic in how he took the photos”. She alleges that the images would feature a clothed Shaw balancing items on his crotch like a cup or a bar of chocolate. 

One of Shaw’s PhD students, Hannah, claims that her supervisor acted as a mentor to her after a difficult break-up. However, she also alleges in the documentary that “it was easy for work chat to slide into this completely inappropriate and manipulative conversation” in which he would ask her what she looked for in men or opine about her mental state. Hannah also accuses Shaw of once asking her to describe the smell of semen at a Christmas party. 

Yet, as Shaw was her supervisor, Hannah says that she felt she had to play the role of a “sexualised object” in order to succeed. 

Shaw’s behaviour also extends to fellow members of staff according to the podcast. Emma, a junior colleague of Shaw in the Geography department who was working her first academic job at the time of the alleged abuse, claims that there was much “ambiguous flirting” between the two of them. However, when she attempted to put an end to this by discussing her feelings with Shaw, he took her off field trips and removed her from a joint project without telling her. Emma says she remembers feeling that “this is my research career crumbling”.

Similarly, Hannah also accuses Shaw of responding to complaints with “bullying and deliberate exclusion”. She claims that he refused to discuss or give a reference for a fellowship that she was interested in. 

Esther also makes the accusation that her relationship with Shaw started as intellectual became emotional and then sexual and that she would definitely call it “grooming”. Although the legal term only applies to those under 16, it is a word that is recurrent throughout the podcast. 

The podcast is critical of the ambiguity of the University of Glasgow’s codes of conduct with none of their policies directly recognising “crossing boundaries” or “grooming”. 

In contrast, the ‘Code of Conduct for Professional Behaviours and Relationships’ at the University of Leeds states that “the University will not accept or tolerate behaviour that breaches professional boundaries” and recognises that “there is often a power differential in a professional context”. The code also gives examples of unacceptable behaviour which includes “unwanted, inappropriate, excessive or flirtatious contact or messages either directly or indirectly” as well as “abusing authority to disadvantage or advantage a student/PGR or member of staff”.

4 of the 6 women registered strikingly similar complaints against Shaw with the University of Glasgow between December 2019 and January 2020. The investigation which, according to University policy, should have taken 20 working days, took 7 months to reach a conclusion. The podcast states that Shaw was found not guilty of sexual harassment in due to the lack of corroborating evidence and no further action was taken against him. 

During the complaints procedure, Shaw left Glasgow and started working at the University of Leeds. Due to data protection laws, the University wouldn’t have known about the complaints. 

Shaw told Al Jazeera Investigates that all the allegations against him were upsetting and untrue. He called them part of a campaign of bullying and abuse which caused him to leave Glasgow University.

In response to a request for comment from The Gryphon, a University of Leeds spokesperson said: “We do not comment on individual cases. We have a zero-tolerance approach to sexual harassment, and the safety and wellbeing of all members of our University community is our top priority. We actively address harassment and sexual misconduct through prevention, and always encourage reporting of any harassment, hate crime or sexual assault.”

You can listen to the full podcast episodes below:

If you believe you are the victim of behavioural misconduct at the University of Leeds you can read the statement and policy on the expectations regarding professional boundaries here and report the incident here.