BBC News

I woke in a stranger's bed, says university rape victim

By Judith Burns and Hannah Richardson
BBC News

media captionAlice Irving has waived her right to anonymity to speak out about her rape at university

Alice Irving woke up in a stranger's bed after a night out drinking during her second year as a graduate student.

She says she had been in no fit state to give consent but that the police and her university did not take her rape complaint seriously enough.

The police later apologised for failing to investigate, she says.

New guidelines now urge universities to take a zero-tolerance approach to sexual violence and harassment, with better support for students.

The report, by a Universities UK taskforce, calls for universities to set out clearly the way they expect students to behave.

In recent years, there have been media reports that "lad culture", misogynistic behaviour and sexual harassment are common in some universities.

Sustained campaigning by students has revealed how badly let down some victims feel.

'Sex with regrets'

Ms Irving, who is now a lecturer in law at the university, campaigns for better treatment of rape victims.

On that night, five years ago, she says, she had drunk more than she had meant to.

Her friends dropped her off a few blocks from her home, but she never made it.

She says the stranger told her he had found her wandering and cold.

He had taken her home and had sex with her.

She says she has only vague memories of what happened and had been in no position to have given consent.

But the police officer who interviewed her described it as "sex with regrets" and a university counsellor focused on how much she had drunk.

'Really distressing'

Years later, she says, she worked up the courage to complain, and the police offered to reopen the investigation.

"All my first responses were fairly negative, and that was really distressing," she says.

"When you are already doubting yourself, having people in those kind of positions of authority and the people who ought to know better kind of putting it back on you was really hard.

"It is only because I had friends who constantly reminded me that no this was not OK that I managed to hold on to that as the truth rather than just agreeing and saying, 'Yeah, you're right, it was my fault and I'm stupid.'"

There are no official statistics on the number of young women sexually assaulted or harassed on and around university campuses.

But figures show this age group is at heightened risk of being a victim of sexual crimes.

The Universities UK taskforce report calls for a "zero-tolerance" approach to sexual violence and harassment against women, and for universities to set out clearly the way they expect students to behave.

The report calls for an end to the hands-off approach many universities have been taking to reports of sexual violence.

This approach was set out under a set of guidelines, known as the Zellick, dating back to 1994.

image copyrightThinkstock
image captionUniversities are urged to recognise that any allegation of misconduct is likely to have an adverse affect on all the students involved

They suggested universities should not bring about disciplinary proceedings unless a complainant had reported their allegations to the police or the case was prosecuted.

But the taskforce says this belies the university's duty of care to their students and could be discriminatory under the Equality Act 2010.

Instead, it says, universities should recognise any allegation of misconduct that may be a criminal offence is likely to have an adverse impact on all students involved.

Therefore, all those involved, particularly the reporting and the accused students, should have access to support, advice and assistance throughout the process.

Universities should also have an "institutional commitment to take seriously and at face value any disclosures of sexual violence".

And there must be trained staff available to help any alleged victims.

'Positive step'

Chief executive of Universities UK, Nicola Dandridge, said universities had always been clear that campuses were no place for sexual violence, harassment or hate crimes.

"The impact of any such incident on a student is so potentially serious that universities must be ready to respond effectively and proactively engage in prevention initiatives," she said.

Universities Minister Jo Johnson said: "We must now ensure that the work this taskforce has done goes onto make a real difference to students across the country."

He added UUK had been asked to assess progress in six months' time and make sure universities were doing all they could to protect the students' safety and security.

On Twitter @EverdaySexism,#UnsafeAtUni, young women recounted their own bad experiences in response to this story.

Everyday Sexism said this litany of sexual assault and harassment showed "why we need to talk about and tackle sexual violence on campus".

image copyrightTwitter

The National Union of Students urged universities to fully embed the recommendations.

"We know sexual harassment and violence is prevalent on our campuses and women are disproportionately affected by this," said NUS women's officer Hareem Ghani.

"In our post-Brexit society, we have become only too aware of the steep rise in hate crime. No student should have to face this on their campus."

Sarah Green, of the End Violence Against Women Coalition, called the report a positive first step.

"But, this is only a first step because while these intentions are good, UUK do not propose any mechanism for enforcement, monitoring is left to individual institutions and there are no recommendations to government for a change in the law should universities not comply with the recommendations," said Ms Green.

Related Topics

  • Sexual violence
  • Universities in the UK
  • Higher education

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