An anonymous student spoke to VarsityJoe Cook

Content note: This article contains mentions of rape, antidepressants, and panic attacks

When Sophie* was raped by her boyfriend, she did not think she would still have to be in college with him for the rest of her time at Cambridge.

She has spoken to Varsity about her college’s failure to discipline the accused student, and to support her welfare throughout the process, after she took her experience to the college.

Sophie continues to see her rapist in college, and has stopped going to lecture sites at certain times because she knows she will see him. “It makes me feel sick when I see him. It makes me feel sick when I hear his voice. Most of the time it’s fear, and a lot of the time it’s anger, because it’s unfair, and he shouldn’t be here, and he shouldn’t be okay.”

When Sophie approached college with what happened, college authorities informed her of some of the routes she could take, all of which have led to dead ends.

Some colleges ban accused students from accessing college spaces temporarily. “You rape someone and you don’t get to go to the bar for a week?” she said.

One option was to bring her case forward to the police. She met with them after lengthy consideration of the potential risks.

“You rape someone and you don’t get to go to the bar for a week?”

In bringing her case to the police, however, she was afraid that the accused student could bring false claims against her.

She could also have gone through the college’s disciplinary procedures, which would mean she would not be legally protected, should claims be made against her.

The procedures also required her to sit down with her rapist and tell him her experiences, as well as hear his perspective on what happened. Sophie was told there was not much she could do, that it was her word against his. She was not prepared to go through this.

She was also offered counselling, which she accepted, but ultimately found it unhelpful. Around the same time, she started having “really bad panic attacks”, prompting her to go to the GP, who put her on antidepressants.

Sophie also saw a specialist counsellor. At her first session, she was told, “this is rape.” She said, “I hadn’t processed what had happened. It wasn’t until after I saw a proper sexual abuse specialist who sat me down and said this, that I knew what it was.”

She was advised by a specialist to file a complaint with the Office of Student Conduct, Complaints and Appeals (OSCCA).

“I’m still stressed. I still have to make every single deadline.”

Sophie also discussed this with a college authority, who gave her contradictory advice, which left her confused about what her next steps should be.

The college offered to help, but said their hands were tied and they could not make any specific accusations to the student.

“I said that this now meant nothing to me because the whole problem is that there’s not an authority telling him off,” she said.

Sophie said she felt that she had received little support. “I wasn’t ever like, everything’s fine. I just said this isn’t the solution I wanted. They said, ‘We understand, that’s your choice. Fine. We won’t do anything.’ [Then] no more help.”

Expressing her frustration with the lack of support, she said: “This isn’t right. My rapist is [still] in my college.”

She was particularly stressed about her academics, which she was told would be taken care of. “But I don’t feel like my academics are taken care of. I’m still stressed. I still have to make every single deadline.”

From the start, Sophie wanted no contact with him. However, he has tried to contact her repeatedly. “I don’t even see him often, it’s just the fact that I could.

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Questions surrounding existing measures of addressing cases of sexual assault within the University have come to the fore in recent years – in October 2017, Cambridge launched ‘Breaking the Silence’, a centralised campaign to tackle sexual harassment and assault.

The launch of the campaign sparked a spike in reports of sexual misconduct to the University’s anonymous reporting system, which between May 2017 and January 2018, received over 170 submissions.

Cambridge colleges’ responses to students’ complaints has come under a process of scrutiny in the past year. Facebook page Grudgebridge announced in May that it would dedicate itself to taking down Cambridge’s drinking societies, sparking a significant number of anonymous submissions detailing instances of sexual misconduct.


Mountain View

Two students speak out about the lapses in their college disciplinary procedures

And earlier this year, a Senate House discussion took place over whether the University should reform the burden of proof for student disciplinary cases from proof ‘beyond reasonable doubt’ to a ‘balance of probabilities’, where cases are decided in favour of the party whose statement is most likely to be true.

In September, two students spoke to Varsity about their experiences bringing complaints to their respective colleges – both said they felt their complaints would lead to little consequence, and that they were not taken seriously.

“I’ve been thinking about [what I should do next]”, Sophie said.  “People have been saying, you know, there’s [not much time] left. But it’s about consequence.”

*The name of the student who spoke to Varsity has been changed to protect her identity.

If you are affected by any of the issues raised in this article, the following organisations provide support and resources: