Student ‘silenced’ by Oxford college over rape claim

A student said a ‘gagging clause’ prevented her from speaking about the alleged assault.

Catherine Lough
Friday 01 April 2022 11:05 BST
University of Oxford (PA)
University of Oxford (PA) (PA Archive)

A student at Oxford University has said a “blanket gagging clause” was imposed by her college when she alleged she was violently raped by another student.

The student told The Times that Lady Margaret Hall warned her not to say anything about the alleged attack or the college’s safeguarding policies to the press or on social media, and that “publishing material in the press will result in expulsion from Lady Margaret Hall”.

She told The Times that another student with whom she was in a relationship had entered her room while she was sleeping and raped her.

The man, who was not charged with any crime, is said to have explained that scratches on his face were a result of “rough sex” with another undergraduate.

The young woman’s lawyers said that Alan Rusbridger, the college principal between 2015 and 2021, had imposed a “blanket gagging clause” on her regarding the incident.

Both the police and the college mounted thorough investigations into the alleged attack but were unable to determine what had happened to the required burdens of proof

Alan Rusbridger

She said that Mr Rusbridger’s “insistent querying” at a meeting where she asked the college to investigate the incident had reduced her to tears.

She subsequently made a legal claim against the college, accusing it of negligence.

Mr Rusbridger, who stepped down from his role last year, said that it was “disappointing” to read a “one-sided account of a distressing and delicate episode at Lady Margaret Hall”.

“Numerous staff and tutors went to great efforts to support and protect a student who alleged she had been attacked by her partner,” he said.

“Both the police and the college mounted thorough investigations into the alleged attack but were unable to determine what had happened to the required burdens of proof.

“The student’s subsequent legal case was met with a response which firmly disputed, denied or rebutted the great majority of claims about the handling of the issue.”

Mr Rusbridger said that it was untrue there had been a “gagging order” but that the student had posted her allegation that she had been raped on Facebook, where her partner was “clearly identifiable”, while a police investigation was still active.

The college is working positively with members of the ‘It Happens Here’ campaign to learn from their experience and expertise

Lady Margaret Hall

“The student was advised of the obvious risks involved in this posting: she apologised and volunteered to delete all her social media accounts,” he said.

He said the college had provided counselling for the student, as well as a bodyguard on one occasion and a panic alarm.

The Times reported that the college’s new principal, Christine Gerrard, settled the claim this week, agreeing to pay damages and meet the woman’s legal costs.

The paper said the young woman is one of eight past or present students who had spoken or written to The Times about what they describe as the college’s mishandling of sexual misconduct cases.

The young woman said: “I’ve lost count of the members of staff who tried to silence, scare, threaten and undermine me.”

A spokesman for Lady Margaret Hall said: “Lady Margaret Hall (LMH) does not comment on individual student cases and cannot respond to points made about individual student cases in the article.”

They added that the college “has recognised that there is scope for improvement in our non-academic disciplinary procedures, which includes how the college deals with allegations of sexual assault and harassment” and that it had established a working party currently reviewing these procedures.

“The college is working positively with members of the ‘It Happens Here’ (IHH) campaign (part of the University of Oxford Student Union), to learn from their experience and expertise,” they added.

“In a recent meeting with IHH we agreed to sign a pledge not to use NDAs in sexual harassment and misconduct cases.

“A particular concern in our discussions has been the under-reporting of sexual assaults and we are working to support students to report offences. We recognise that students’ confidence in how their reports will be dealt with is of key importance.”

A University of Oxford spokesperson said: “We are aware that reporting of sexual misconduct remains low in the university community, as it does in the wider society, and the University continues to put measures in place to encourage those affected to feel empowered to seek support.

“Since the establishment of the Sexual Harassment and Violence Support Service, we have seen increasing numbers of students coming forward and we would encourage anyone affected by this very serious issue to seek support. We can then help them understand their options and offer full support throughout the process. This support includes any necessary measures to help them complete their studies.”

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