Leading cyber-safety activist Jennifer Perry has condemned OUSU VP for Women Sarah Pine’s campaign for speakers to boycott the Oxford Union as “intimidating” and “threatening”.
Perry’s remarks came shortly before the cancellation of her own planned Oxford Union engagement today, a panel discussion on stalking and harassment, after only one audience member showed up to the Tuesday event.
Perry was to be part of a panel including Dr. Emma Short, co-founder of the National Centre for Cyberstalking Research, Alexis Bowater, a campaigner against violence against women, and Harry Fletcher, a criminal justice expert and parliamentary campaigner. She told Cherwell that the event would be rescheduled for Michaelmas.
Yesterday, Perry publicly expressed her disappointment in the Oxford Union boycott campaign organised by Sarah Pine and Helena Dollimore. The campaign calls for invited speakers to withdraw from Union commitments due to President Ben Sullivan’s arrest and subsequent release on bail on suspicion of rape and attempted rape.
Perry told The Telegraph that she was subject to “an enormous amount of pressure” from Pine to cancel Tuesday’s panel, which Perry described as “directed at keeping primarily women safe”.
Addressing Pine directly in her statement, Perry continued, “We simply do not understand why you believe it is in the interest of the students to stop them from hearing safety messages about stalking.”
“It became apparent that [Sarah Pine’s] agenda wasn’t about keeping women safe and comfortable and coming to the talk. It was more that they wanted another speaker not attending the Union. I don’t want to be hijacked by someone else’s political campaign.”
Perry’s condemnation of the boycott campaign comes just days after prominent philosopher A.C. Grayling defended his decision to speak at the Union.
“I simply cannot, in all conscience, allow myself to act only on the basis of allegations and suspicions, or of conviction by the kangaroo court of opinion, or trial by press,” Grayling wrote in an open letter last week.
Planned speakers Tawakkol Karman, Julie Meyer, Eric Whitacre, and the Secretary General of Interpol have nevertheless all pulled out of Union events in reaction to Pine and Dollimore’s campaign for a boycott.
Responding to Perry’s denouncement of her campaign, Pine told The Telegraph, “It is regrettable that Jennifer turned down our request for an alternative venue that was bigger and wheelchair accessible which was at the same time and could have reached more people.”
“However, we have a OUSU women’s campaign harassment and stalking working group which is meeting this week and I am proud to be a part of.”
“I think Jennifer is right when she stresses the importance opening up discussions around stalking.”
Oxford Union President Ben Sullivan told Cherwell, “I am glad that Ms Perry agrees that Ms Pine’s campaign to force speakers to boycott the Union is counterproductive and unnecessary. At this point no charges have been laid against me. I feel it would undermine the Union’s core values for a President to resign because of allegations.
“This practice has precedence in the House of Commons. Last year the former Deputy Speaker Nigel Evans was arrested after similar allegations but did not step down after his arrest. I can confirm that if I am charged however, like Mr Evans, I will resign immediately.”