Investigation: sexual violence in Oxford

Four fifths of Oxford students are unaware of the support available for survivors of sexual violence.

In a Cherwell survey, 83% of students said that they were unsure or unaware of “any options at the University should you wish to report any kind of sexual assault.” Only 17% of people said they knew about the support available for survivors.

The revelations come as part of an investigation into sexual violence across the university. Cherwell asked 225 students from most JCRs in the university about their experiences of sexual violence.

The investigation, which defined sexual violence as “any form of non-consensual sexual act”, received 71 responses from people who had experienced assaults. Of these people, only eight (11%) “felt able to report the incident” to college.

Respondents who reported their experiences to college had mixed feelings about the response. Six out of ten people said their case was not taken seriously, with one more person “unsure.” Eight said they were unhappy with the outcome of the incident.

An Oxford University spokesperson commented, “The University of Oxford takes allegations of rape or sexual assault extremely seriously and the welfare teams, peer supporters and harassment advisors based in the colleges, would be on hand to offer immediate support to students involved in any cases of sexual harassment or violence.

“They would support students who report having been raped or sexually assaulted and would encourage them to report those allegations, which are a criminal matter, to the police.”

There are other resources provided for survivors of sexual consent, including OUSU’s It Happens Here campaign, Oxford Rape Crisis Centre, and the university’s counselling service.

Several respondents to the survey described the university’s response, with some criticising the welfare provided.

One student said, “When I reported the incident, I was told that I was naive and “did not understand boys” as I had been to an all-girls school. I was also told that “things happen when heavy drinking is involved.”

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Several criticised welfare officers, with one respondent saying that after a complaint, she “never heard from them again… Months later, I emailed one of them. Their response was that they didn’t think I was actually making a report.”

Another undergraduate expressed anger that “nothing happened”, with the perpetrator only “being a bit told off.”

But others praised the welfare provided. “I was eventually taken to our college Chaplain, after I had suffered severe after effects,” one respondent said. “He was fantastic, and is possibly the only reason I am still at Oxford.”

Another undergraduate commended their college for ensuring the aggressor moved out of their house.

The main reason victims felt unable to report their assaults was fear of not being taken seriously. One student who had been raped said, “I didn’t want to get stick for ‘playing the victim’ after ‘regretting a one night stand’.”

Another woman said she “felt that it would not have been taken seriously because I had taken part in sexual activity with the guy in question, but had told him I didn’t want to have sex.”

One student said, “I was treated so poorly by the college, and made to feel like such an unwanted outsider, that I felt unable to trust anyone to help me.

“Plus I started to blame myself for what had happened; I felt so ashamed and traumatised and there was no one to turn to, so I decided it must have been my fault.”

Others said they “didn’t want to be called slut”, or that they “felt that it wouldn’t be seen as abuse” having consented to other sexual acts.

Another major reason for choosing not to talk to college authorities was a sense that nothing could be done. One student, assaulted by a fellow Oxford student in a different country, said she “didn’t feel support from college was possible on my year abroad”.

Difficulties in reporting sexual assaults were exacerbated by the size of colleges – many victims knew their attackers well, or wanted to avoid drawing attention to themselves.

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One student wrote that “the perpetrator was someone I’ve slept with in the past so I felt that it wouldn’t be seen as abuse.”

In one account which happened in Freshers’ Week, a student said she “felt it was necessary to keep a low profile as I did not want to be seen as ‘stirring up trouble’.”

There was a gender split among those who had experienced violence. Only six men told Cherwell they had experienced sexual assault, and none reported it violence to college authorities. Many suggested this was because men are rarely heard when they complain about sexual assault. One said that “males are never taken seriously in such situations.”

A second man echoed the sentiment, commenting, “I think there’s a prevailing sense that when a guy sleeps with a woman without his consent it’s less of an issue as in the opposite case. Especially if the guy is drunk – if a girl is raped when drunk it’s unacceptable; if a guy is raped when drunk it isn’t really even considered sexual abuse.”

The University of Oxford does not have a specific policy on sexual violence: sexual assaults are included in the Harassment and Bullying Policy.

The policy states that “Allegations of harassment or bullying which arise within the college environment will normally be dealt with under the appropriate college procedure,” and condemns “unwanted physical contact, ranging from an invasion of space toe serious assault.”

If you would like support having experienced sexual violence, several Oxford organisations are available.

• Oxford Sexual Abuse and Rape Crisis Centre (OSARCC)  01865 726295. OSARCC was strongly recommended by survey respondents.

• University Harassment Advisors  01865270760

• University Counselling Service – 01865270300