Warwick rape chat student 'devastated' as uni defends decision

By Dulcie Lee & Larissa Kennelly
BBC News

Media caption,
The student says she feels her experience has been for nothing

A student threatened with rape by men in an online chat has told the BBC her university's investigation into the messages made her feel like she was "on trial".

Five male students were banned from the University of Warwick last year, after details of the chat emerged.

Several students in the chat encouraged others to rape women on campus.

The university said it "stands by the investigation process", but it planned to review its disciplinary procedures.

A statement from the university, accompanying an open letter by vice-chancellor Professor Stuart Croft, said the university "will ensure sexual misconduct is considered specifically as part of our review of disciplinary processes".

Jennifer - not her real name - spoke out after the BBC reported on Thursday that two of the students, initially banned for 10 years, had had their punishments reduced after an appeal.

They could return to classes this year.

Jennifer said this left her "devastated" and that all of her "traumatic experiences" had been "for nothing".

"These people are still going to be back and they're still going to be dangerous ... and Warwick University are allowing that to happen."

The Facebook group chat was first reported last summer by Warwick student newspaper The Boar.

'Very aggressive'

Jennifer said: "There were a lot of threats of gang rape.

"One of them spoke about wanting to gang rape me and then after they discarded my body they wanted to ejaculate all over it.

"They talked about my friend, they wanted to genitally mutilate her."

Other posts included a racially offensive term and anti-Semitic language.

Image source, The Boar
Image caption,
Student newspapers obtained the screenshots after complaints were made to the university

After Jennifer and another student officially complained to the university, both were interviewed as part of the subsequent investigation.

"We were made to feel the entire time that we had to justify why we were upset," she said.

"It was very aggressive questioning. It was as if we were on trial.

"We were given a list of male individuals involved, and we were taken through it one by one and asked our sexual history with each of them - which obviously was really traumatic. Not having anyone really there to represent me.

"I didn't know if I was supposed to be answering these kind of questions and it was really upsetting."

'Conflict of interest'

The university's director of press, whose job it is to promote the university and protect its reputation, was appointed as the official investigator.

Jennifer said that this was a "clear conflict of interest".

A spokesman from the University of Warwick admitted there was a "potential for conflict".

But he said: "During the length of the investigation media relations were delegated to other members of the press and media relations team."

He added: "All those who were interviewed as part of the investigation were asked about whether there were prior or existing relationships with those also involved.

"The detail of any relationship was neither questioned or explored."

In a lengthy statement, with a further list of questions and answers attached, Professor Croft said the punished students' comments had been "dehumanising, humiliating, and revolting" and "against everything that everyone holds dear in any society".

But he said that, despite calls for the 11 individuals involved to be banned from campus, he did not have the authority to make such a decision.

He said that the university had a duty of care to all those involved and that he was not going to immediately propose a way forward "because I think that there is a lot more listening to do first".

In the accompanying FAQs, the university clarified: "The male students are not allowed on campus at the present time and, should they return to complete their studies next year, their access to campus facilities and to learning opportunities will be carefully managed in line with conditions laid out in the initial punishment."

On Thursday, Prof Christine Ennew, a member of the executive team at Warwick University, said the university was sorry the decision to allow the students back early had "upset so many members of our own community and beyond".

She added the penalties were intended to allow the complainants time to finish their studies before the disciplined students were given the opportunity to return.

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