On Sunday evening The Oxford Student published an online article, also published on telegraph.co.uk despite being quickly taken down from the OxStu‘s website, entitled ‘Sullivan’s alleged “rape victim knew her claims were false”‘.
Needless to say, I was shocked when the link appeared on my newsfeed, yet the content proved to be far more breath-taking than I could have ever imagined. It severely compromised one of the alleged victims’ anonymity by divulging personal details and offered up information relating to the woman’s sexual history, conveniently slipped in, as if to suggest that this should make the alleged victim more predisposed to engage in consensual sexual intercourse with Ben Sullivan.
The article was not only legally dubious but also astonishingly slut-shaming, and displayed total ignorance of the importance of respect and protection for sexual violence survivors.
The article states how the woman in question “is understood to have described ‘collecting’ sexual encounters with Union politicians because it feels ‘glamorous’ and ‘naughty’ in an anonymous article”.
It baffles me that the author of this article thought it appropriate to include such comments in the context of an article which suggests that the victims’ claims were false, comments which strike me as bearing a worrying similarity to remarks often used by perpetrators of sexual violence.
I agree completely with the recent Tab article, ‘No, OxStu, being sexually active doesn’t mean you can’t be raped’, which states that these remarks in the Oxstu contribute to the perverse and sadly often widespread belief that a woman who is sexually active cannot be raped, which holds that she consents sometimes and therefore consents every time. This implies that she is, perhaps ‘asking for it’.
The OxStu comments are a clear example of victim blaming, which has been pervasive throughout coverage of the case. The Mail quoted an “anonymous” friend of Ben’s, who said that the pair had been kissing earlier in the evening. Previous sexual activity, or previous consent, does not mean that someone wants to have sex with someone later.
Consent is not absolute, and can be withdrawn at any time. The quotation given here simply reiterates the most regressive and ridiculous rape myths.
This was not the only element of the article which displayed a worrying outlook on consent. The article quoted the alleged victim as saying “I was far too drunk, that’s it” in the midst of a piece which infers that consensual intercourse occurred. However, intoxication can impair one’s ability to give consent. The presence and positioning of this phrase in the OxStu article suggests that it is possible or even likely that someone who is heavily inebriated can consent to sexual intercourse.
Finally, whilst the article prides itself on obtaining a Facebook conversation between Sullivan and the alleged victim and states that she “appears to have told Sullivan directly that she knew their affair was consensual”, it is highly likely that a victim of sexual violence will not directly state that they have been raped or sexually assaulted when facing their perpetrator.
As a template letter of complaint which is currently circulating on the popular feminist zine Facebook Page, Cuntry Living, states, the author’s failure to take this fact into account “shows a blatant disregard for the welfare of the women making allegations and to the 1 in 4 women who statistics tell us will be victims of sexual assault [whilst at university]. The message this sends out to survivors is that society doesn’t care about the nuances and complexities of their trauma and that people will seek to vilify you”.
I am impressed by the quick response of students to this damaging article. Cuntry Living is alive with shocked comments, template complaint letters aimed at proctors and Daily Telegraph writers and information packs on how to submit such complaints.
OUSU President Louis Trup and OUSU Vice President for Women Anna Bradshaw have also encouraged people to send in complaints to firstname.lastname@example.org so that they can fairly voice the varying concerns of students.
Yet I am saddened by the damage that this article has done. As Siobhan Fenton, author of the Tab article concludes, “Rape is never justified. Just writing that sentence seems so obvious as to be absurd. Yet yesterday’s piece in the OxStu is a chilling reminder that it needs to be said.” I cannot agree more. We must all work harder to ensure that these harmful ideas really are the beliefs of a tiny, woefully misguided minority. The women of Oxford deserve better.