Gang-raped student calls for inquiry

A STUDENT gang-raped on an exchange visit to the Ukraine is demanding that the Scottish Office order an independent inquiry into St Andrews University's handling of the affair.

Erin MacLean, 25, says St Andrews "will not even apologise" for its reluctance to act over the attack in June 1996. "They just want to sweep it under the carpet," the former Russian language student said.

Ms MacLean maintains the university's Russian department knew of the rape the day after it happened in Odessa but she had to "go public" andthreaten to sue St Andrews to produce a response.

This Friday the court of the Scottish university will discuss the case. "I honestly don't see it going anywhere unless they admit they are at fault, and they're not going to do that," Ms MacLean said.

She wants the education department at the Scottish Office to order an inquiry into why no pressure was put on police in Ukraine to investigate the rape and into procedures for student safety on exchange visits.

Ms MacLean and two other students are also suing St Andrews for the return of their pounds 1,600 fees for the visit. They claim the hostel for the five- month course at Odessa State University was unheated, hygiene standards were poor and there were frequent thefts from rooms and gang knife fights.

She says she was raped by three soldiers as she and her boyfriend were returning to the hostel at about 3am after they had gone to a beach to escape the hostel violence. "First they stopped my friend and took his money. Then they came back and that was when it happened," she said. Her boyfriend was beaten and forced to watch her ordeal. The couple rushed to the hostel and asked for the police to be called but no one came.

Though she believes a fax was sent the next day from Odessa, telling the Russian department at St Andrews of the attack, Ms MacLean says she was never asked for an account. "I just find it astonishing that they never even tried," she said, adding that she was "too demoralised" to fight the case when she returned to complete her studies.

After graduating last year, she went home to America and worked for a document services firm in New York, but the rape haunted her. "Every once in a while I was asked to use my Russian, like in contacts with the Russian embassy, and it would produce panic in me," she said.

Ms MacLean was incensed by remarks last week by Professor Struther Arnott, principal of St Andrews, questioning the attack.

St Andrews said it was "appalled" at any suggestion it was not taking the matter seriously. "The university is anxious to ascertain details, but despite requests to Ms MacLean and her lawyers to provide fundamental details, these have not been forthcoming," a spokeswoman said.