Oxford college threatened “expulsion” if rape victim revealed anything
A female student at an Oxford institution was silenced after she claimed to have been raped by another student in her dorm room.
Lady Margaret Hall, which was once a women-only institution, issued a written warning to the young woman not to discuss the alleged incident or its security arrangements on social media or in the media.
Breach of the secrecy rules, such as “publishing material in the press,” would result in her dismissal from Lady Margaret Hall, she was told.
The woman told The Times that her accused attacker broke into her college bedroom while she was sleeping, holding her arms down and raping her. He later revealed to another undergraduate that the scratches on his face and neck were caused by “rough sex.”
A “blanket gag clause” was put in place when Alan Rusbridger, the former editor of The Guardian, was the college principal from 2015 to 2021. The woman’s lawyers called it a “blanket gagging clause.”
The woman filed a lawsuit against the college, accusing it of carelessness, breach of contract, discrimination, harassment, and victimization, as well as Rusbridger of mishandling the situation by “trying desperately to convince her not to complain.” She claimed that Rusbridger’s “insistent querying” forced her to cry during a meeting when she sought a college investigation into the alleged rape.
Rusbridger, 68, who resigned last year, denied there was a gag order and stated that during his tenure as principal, the college responded to the woman’s complaint with an “18-page legal document which firmly disputed, denied or rebutted virtually all of the claims” and “detailed the extensive measures taken to protect and support the woman including her physical security and psychological wellbeing.”
He claimed that during a discussion, he questioned what the woman hoped a college probe would accomplish after a police investigation resulted in no charges being filed.
The claim was settled last week by the college’s new principle, Christine Gerrard, who agreed to pay damages and cover the woman’s legal fees.
Lady Margaret Hall did not acknowledge fault, but it did announce a major revamp of how it handles sexual misconduct complaints, as well as being the first Oxford college to sign a government-backed commitment prohibiting institutions from using non-disclosure agreements to silence students.
“There is scope for improvement in our non-academic disciplinary procedures, which includes how the college deals with allegations of sexual assault and harassment,” Gerrard said.
A review of welfare programs, the hiring of an outside investigator to look at complex cases, and sexual violence awareness training are among the reforms.
The woman who filed the lawsuit is one of eight former or current students who have spoken to the Times or submitted written testimony regarding the college’s treatment of sexual assault occurrences and a disregard for women’s safety, according to them.
Lady Margaret Hall is a small institution with a student body of around 500. To protect people’s identities, Revyuh is not publishing the names of persons involved in the cases or the exact dates of the incidents.
The woman claims she was assaulted at the start of the school year. It took her six months to feel comfortable reporting the incident to the institution, university, and police.
Her accused assailant was temporarily suspended from college near the end of the school year, but he was reinstated the following September.
The Crown Prosecution Service abandoned her case that month, and the college issued the woman and her alleged attacker a “no contact agreement” that included the gagging terms.
An internal college investigation began in January of the following year and took seven months to conclude that the rape had occurred.
According to the Times, the investigator was unaware that the alleged attacker had been reported to campus authorities by a different student for barging into her room and acting sexually threateningly.
The rape claim was strongly denied by the male student, who has never been charged with any crime in connection with either occurrence.
“There are no words to describe what Lady Margaret Hall has done to me, nor will it ever be something that I ‘get over’, as I have been told to do by multiple members of staff. I’ve lost count of the members of staff who tried to silence me, scare me, threaten me and undermine me,” the woman who took the court case said.
“I have never felt so unsafe in a place where I was meant to not only be safe but thrive,” said another student who reported sexual harassment at the college.
Georgina Calvert-Lee, the woman’s solicitor, stated that the case was noteworthy since the college included an NDA into a document intended to address student safety.
She added: “Imposing silence on complainants of sexual violence harms them since they are unable to seek comfort and support, harms other students and staff who go unwarned about a potential risk and harms the investigation because it is less likely to find corroborative evidence.”
“Sexual harassment is horrendous and complainants should never be bought or bullied into silence simply to protect the reputation of their university,” said Michelle Donelan, the education minister, when launching the university pledge against NDAs in January.
Students are “afraid to complain assault”
According to the university, sexual misbehavior at Oxford is severely under-reported, with only 26 cases reported to authorities in the last five years (Sean O’Neill writes).
Despite the fact that 26,000 students attend the 39 colleges, only one incidence was recorded through official channels in 2021-22.
“Sexual misconduct reporting remains low in the university community,” admitted a spokesman, who maintained that this mirrored society as a whole and added that Oxford “continues to put measures in place to encourage those affected to feel empowered to seek support.” When victims of assaults and harassment report instances to college authorities, the student campaign group It Happens Here (IHH) claims that they are typically dismissed.
Last year, Al Jazeera published an investigation alleging serious misbehavior by two instructors at Balliol College and claiming that the college’s response was inadequate. The discoveries have sparked protests at the college.
“Sexual assault and violence is drastically under-reported at Oxford,” added Ffion Samuels of IHH. “If colleges continue to abuse their power and silence survivors, students will continue to fear the consequences of making a complaint of sexual assault.” She added: “We have been approached by students from state school backgrounds who have felt that they are more easily dismissed and silenced because they do not have the financial backing of their more privileged peers. Oxford University cannot provide a safe place to study and live without fear of discrimination.”
The government-backed vow to end the use of non-disclosure agreements in misconduct cases has yet to be signed by any Oxford college. “Oxford does not use non-disclosure agreements to prevent students from reporting sexual misconduct or other illegal or inappropriate behaviour,” a university spokesman said.
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