Oxford University suffering rise in culture of sexual harassment, college head warns

Dr Alice Prochaska said female students face 'excessively harassing and intimidating behaviour'

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The Independent Online

The head of an Oxford University college has warned of an "unprecedented" scale of "epidemic" of groping and sexual harassment.

Dr Alice Prochaska said in an email to undergraduates that female students were facing "excessively harassing and intimidating behaviour" amid reports of rape jokes in communal areas, sexual coercion and groping at college parties and on campus.

"Rape is not a joke, as those who have been victims of it could tell you," she wrote.

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"Any level of sexual harassment is also not a joke; it is not acceptable that members of the college and their friends should be made to feel uncomfortable and disrespected here."

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Ione Wells, who is behind the #NotGuilty campaign (Image: Instagram/Ione Wells)

Dr Prochaska, who has been the head of Somerville College since 2010, warned that she had received reports of "rude and sometimes threatening behaviour on a scale unprecedented in my time as principal".

She also said that Somerville, which was attended by Margaret Thatcher and was one of the first women's colleges in Oxford - although now around 50 per cent of its students are male - had also seen incidents of homophobia, the Telegraph reported.

Her comments follow a widely-publicised open letter published by Oxford student Ione Wells, who waived her anonymity to highlight her own experience of being sexually assaulted in London, kickstarting the online campaign #NotGuilty.

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Ione Wells has launched the #NotGuilty campaign to raise awareness of sexual assault

The Times also reported that a meeting held by the college’s junior common room, which represents undergraduates, heard that deans had received six times more complaints this term than in the past six years combined.

Daniella Shreir, a student who spoke at the meeting, told the newspaper that there was an intimidating atmosphere, adding: “Many left the room extremely shaken and in tears. Only a few of us felt able to speak out.”

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