Why Do So Many Women Students Say Sexual Bullying and Rape Are Rife at Oxford?

Daily Mail (London), May 16, 2015 | Go to article overview

Why Do So Many Women Students Say Sexual Bullying and Rape Are Rife at Oxford?


Byline: Tom Rawstorne

HAVING fulfilled her dream of a place at Oxford to study law, Claire Foster couldn't wait to get started. But within just weeks, the straight-A student found that while the academic opportunities on offer could not be faulted, there was a deeply worrying undercurrent to student life.

Browsing a newsletter produced by male undergraduates at her college, the 18-year-old was shocked to find it filled with detailed stories of sexual encounters between second year students and female freshers.

In one, a student described in deeply derogatory terms how he had slept with one young woman while she was menstruating.

Worse was to come at the end of Claire's first year when the undergraduates posed for a set of college photographs. After the formal shot had been taken, the students were invited to take part in a more light-hearted picture.

For this 'fun' photo, a group of the second year male students stripped naked. Two then posed at the very front of the group, one on all fours, simulating a sex act. 'You would have thought that would have caused all sorts of outrage,' said Claire (whose name the Mail has changed to protect her anonymity). 'But in fact it was put on sale alongside the formal one, in a frame with the college name and crest at the top.' Uneasy about this 'laddish' culture, Claire spent more time working and less socialising.

The following year, as a second year student, she was renting a house with fellow undergraduates. Claire claims that one Saturday lunchtime, while alone at home, a male student visiting the shared house an aquaintance from her college came into her room and raped her.

Initially stunned into silence by what had happened, a week passed before she reported the alleged attack to their college.

But far from supporting her, she says the college authorities' failure to help her deal with the matter was as traumatic as the rape itself. Claire developed severe depression and ended up having to move to another college after the university refused to take any action against her alleged rapist when he denied the allegations.

'I have spoken to several people who have had similar experiences with the university,' she says. 'They simply want to brush these things under the carpet so that no one finds out what really goes on there.' Of course there are two sides to every story, and university authorities are clearly placed in an invidious position when confronted by completely contradictory testimony. But Claire's claims cannot be dismissed lightly.

Last week, former Oxford student Elizabeth Ramey, 29, waived her anonymity to bring a case in the High Court challenging the university's policy on how it deals with cases of rape and serious sexual assault.

Like Claire, Miss Ramey claims she was raped by a fellow student, then badly let down by the university's internal disciplinary process.

Instead of any action being taken against the man, he was simply warned that in future he should be more careful 'about putting himself in situations with female students which are open to misinterpretation'.

Although the judge declined permission for judicial review of the policy, the case will undoubtedly fuel concerns about what is going on at Oxford.

This week, it emerged that the principal of Margaret Thatcher's old college had warned that female students there were facing an unprecedented barrage of 'excessively harassing and intimidating behaviour'. Her warning was prompted by numerous reports of groping at college parties, rape jokes being overheard in communal areas and students being coerced into sexual activity.

In an email to undergraduates, Dr Alice Prochaska, the head of Somerville College, wrote: 'Rape is not a joke, as those who have been victims of it could tell you.

'Any level of sexual harassment is also not a joke; it is not acceptable that members of the college and their friends should be made to feel uncomfortable and disrespected here. …

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