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Content Note: This article contains detailed discussion and description of rape, stealthing and other forms of sexual misconduct. 

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

Faye* made a formal complaint to the University in October 2018, reporting being raped by a fellow student.

Eight months later, she was told that her complaint would not be taken forward, because an academic had ruled that the current University disciplinary regulations do not cover sexual misconduct.

On Tuesday, Varsity revealed that the Chair of the Discipline Committee had ruled that the term ‘harassment’ within the University regulations was being interpreted too widely, and that sexual misconduct complaints should not fall under the definition of harassment.

Since there is no other section of the Regulations for Discipline which applies to sexual misconduct, this effectively means the University cannot take these complaints forward. 


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From 1st October, a new discipline procedure will come into force that will explicitly define sexual misconduct as a breach of the rules of behaviour for students, effectively overruling the Chair’s decision. 

However, this new system will only work prospectively, meaning complaints to the University made by anyone who was, or is, sexually assaulted or harassed before this coming October will be assessed under the old procedures, even if complaints are filed after this date. And because of the Chair’s recent decision, such cases would likely not be found to constitute harassment.

A University spokesperson told Varsity that “cases of sexual misconduct that constitute harassment are still being brought forward under existing regulations”. 

Faye is the second student to speak out after having their complaint dismissed due to the Chair’s decision that cases of sexual misconduct do not constitute harassment. 

“I don't want to defame Cambridge because it is still my home,” she explained, “but it has got to a point where it almost needs to be named and shamed.”

The University spokesperson added that they could not comment on individual cases and that “cases will continue to be looked at on their individual facts, on a case by case basis”.

"He said, and I quote, 'I respect you too much to tell you that.'"

One night after exams last year, Faye went back from a club with another student. Although she consented to sex, she recalls clearly saying, “You have got to wear a condom, I've not been on the pill."

However, according to Faye, at one point during their encounter the other student distracted her and removed his condom. She said that she realised soon after, and told him to stop immediately.

“I looked around and there was the condom on the floor. It was about 60cm away from where we were, so obviously if there had been an accident and it had sort of miraculously come off - which let's be honest they don't do - but if it had, there was no way it could have ended up quite as far away as it actually ended up being.”

“He refused to talk to me and didn't meet my eyes until I was dressed and said, 'You have to let me out right now', because his accommodation required a key to get out.”

“Then when I was at the gate I turned to him and said, 'Tell me that by some magical mystery of physics that the condom managed to do that by itself and you didn't actually do what I think you just did.' And he said, and I quote, 'I respect you too much to tell you that.'"

Removing a condom without consent during sex, known as “stealthing”, is legally classed as rape in the UK.

Initially Faye did not want to make a complaint, but after experiencing “quite a bit of emotional and mental backlash throughout the summer” and discovering he had allegedly “not only hurt other girls, but had assaulted other girls”, she says she changed her mind.

"Faye stopped going to almost all her lectures having experienced panic attacks because they were on the same lecture site as her attacker’s."

Knowing how few successful criminal prosecutions there have been for stealthing in the UK and “very much aware that a jury would find it almost impossible to convict a young white man, with good career prospects”, Faye decided to take her case to the University rather than the police, and filed a complaint.

While the University does not use criminal language, such as rape or assault, Faye was able to make a complaint of sexual misconduct. 

Faye, who was given no clear timeframe for the complaint process, says that the whole experience affected her heavily: “Every week there seemed to be a ‘something’ and it ended up affecting my academic studies so much that I have had to have an allowance for this year's results.” 

Although he was discouraged from contacting her, the University did not offer any further provisions to prevent the alleged rapist from being around Faye while the case was ongoing. She stopped going to almost all her lectures, having begun to experience panic attacks because they shared the same lecture site.

It was only in late June, almost exactly a year since the incident, and 8 months after she first reported it to the University, that a case management meeting was held for Faye’s case. These meetings are held to discuss any procedural issues and are presided over by the Chair of the Discipline Committee, who has sole responsibility for any decisions.

There are currently four chairs of the Discipline Committee, and the University did not respond when asked which of the four had ruled on this decision.

“It felt like I wasn't being believed and I didn't have any way shape or form of defending myself," Faye said.

Faye was not allowed to attend the meeting, or to answer any queries the Chair had, because when complaints are taken forward by the University the complainant is treated like any other witness. This meant that at the hearing a University staff member represented her complaint against the other student on behalf of the University, and the Chair relied on Faye's written testimony and evidence which she had submitted prior to this meeting. 

In full How the University defines harassment and sexual misconduct

The University’s definitions for harassment and sexual misconduct are outlined in the “Code Of Conduct For Students In Respect Of Harassment And Sexual Misconduct”. It outlines the following:

The University defines harassment as single or repeated incidents involving unwanted or unwarranted conduct towards another person which it is reasonable to think would have the effect of (i) violating that other’s dignity or (ii) creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating, or offensive environment for that other.

Harassment may be verbal, psychological, or physical, in person or via a virtual platform, or through other methods of contact. Harassment may occur in the course of an academic, sporting, social, cultural, or other activity either within the Precincts of the University or elsewhere in the context of a person’s membership of the University, or in circumstances where the victim of the harassment is a member, officer, or employee of the University or a College.

Under this Code of Conduct unacceptable behaviour, whether intentional or not, can take a variety of different forms. The following descriptions are not exhaustive, but give an indication of the types of behaviour which the University considers to be unacceptable:

  • making sexually offensive comments about dress or appearance, the display or distribution of sexually explicit material, or demands for sexual favours;
  • engaging in harassment on the grounds of a person’s sexuality (or assumptions about a person’s sexuality) including making derogatory homophobic, transphobic, or biphobic remarks or jokes aimed at a particular person, offensive comments relating to a person’s sexuality, refusal to acknowledge a person’s gender or identity, or threats to disclose a person’s sexuality to others;
  • making offensive references to a person’s race, ethnicity, skin colour, religion or nationality, dress, culture, background or customs which have the effect of ridiculing or undermining an individual or fostering hatred and/or prejudice towards individuals or particular groups;
  • ignoring, disparaging, or ridiculing a person because of mistaken assumptions about their capabilities, or making offensive reference to an individual’s appearance, in the context of their disability;
  • controlling or coercive behaviour, such as pressure to subscribe to a particular political or religious belief.

Online harassment may take the form of intimidating, offensive, or graphic posts on social media sites or chat rooms, or communications by email, text, or instant messaging.

Sexual misconduct includes the following, whether or not within a sexual or romantic relationship, including where consent to some form of sexual activity has been given and then withdrawn, or if consent has been given on previous occasions:

  • sexual intercourse or engaging in a sexual act without consent;
  • attempting to engage in sexual intercourse or engaging in a sexual act without consent;
  • sharing private sexual materials of another person without consent;
  • kissing without consent;
  • touching inappropriately through clothes without consent;
  • inappropriately showing sexual organs to another person;
  • repeatedly following another person without good reason;
  • making unwanted remarks of a sexual nature.

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Her alleged attacker was also allowed to review any evidence she had put forward, including private messages she had sent to friends about the incident, and to “explain his side of the story” in person at the hearing.

Because the Chair ruled that the case should be dismissed on procedural grounds before it got to a full Discipline Committee meeting, Faye did not have an opportunity to stand as a witness or respond to her alleged attacker’s account of the night.

In a letter from the Office for Student Conduct, Complaints and Appeals (OSCCA), Faye was informed that the Chair was “not satisfied that the parameters of the University regulations extended to the circumstances detailed in your complaint. In [their] judgement, the regulations covered allegations of harassment but not sexual misconduct.”

It was this ruling which effectively set the precedent within the University’s complaints procedure. One week later, this ruling was explicitly referred to when another student’s case of alleged sexual misconduct was dismissed.

For Faye the decision that the University could not rule on cases of sexual misconduct came as a huge surprise.

She describes having to fill out a set of paperwork when initially reporting the alleged rape: ”You had a choice whether to fill in the harassment part or the sexual misconduct part. Obviously knowing which one it falls under I filled in the sexual misconduct part. Well why was I able to fill in that part of the form in October, if in June somebody is telling me the Code of Conduct doesn't have the provisions to be able to deal with sexual misconduct?”

According to Faye’s dismissal letter from OSCCA, the Chair also ruled that the case could not be taken forward as they “were not satisfied that the Discipline Committee would be able to enforce the appropriate procedural safeguards” to protect both students involved, “for example, there are no automatic safeguards regarding the types of questions you could be asked during the Committee meeting”. 

It went on to say that “even if [they] were wrong about the parameters of the regulations...[the Chair] considered that there was insufficient evidence to proceed with the case.”

“It felt like I wasn't being believed and I didn't have any way shape or form of defending myself. It felt like it left me being the accused, not him", Faye said.

“Not only did I not get to have my say, it almost seems like it ended on a slight on my character.[...] It is really really hurtful to think that they have actually left it on a ‘by the way, you probably wouldn't have had a chance anyway because we are not sure we believe you’.”

"What disappoints me the most is that I genuinely feel like Cambridge is my home."

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Faye does not have the right to appeal the decision directly, which she described as “disgusting.”

While she can make a complaint about the University’s handling of the case under the Student Complaint Procedure, which she is currently pursuing, OSCCA have said this will still not change the University’s decision not to take disciplinary action.

Despite praising the “wonderful” support she has received from her college, she says she was left feeling let down by the University.

“They've decided that my case was too severe for them to treat, well then why have a Code of Conduct in the first place? Why say that you can help girls like me who are going through this sort of thing, if you don't actually want to be able to be held accountable for everything that is going on.”

“If they had at least given me the dignity of going through with a hearing, at least I would have felt like they took it seriously, whereas what has happened is that I feel like they have wasted a year of my time, needlessly, almost in an attempt to console me so that I wouldn't feel the need to complain about them not having the ability to help me in the first place.”

“What disappoints me the most is that I genuinely feel like Cambridge is my home. You know, I found my place at the University and it is exactly where I want to be. And then it is like having my family turn around and go 'Hmm. Yeah, but no', as soon as I might be a problem to their reputation.”

A University spokesperson said: “Cambridge places the utmost importance on the welfare of its students, and continues to offer support, advice and the option of the university taking action to anyone who has experienced a form of harassment.

"We have made huge progress on our provision for this since universities were given a mandate to investigate cases of sexual misconduct but where we have identified areas for improvement, we've taken action, including undergoing a consultation on changing the disciplinary system which has resulted in new regulations coming into effect from 1 October.”

The new procedures coming into force from 1st October will mean students who experience sexual misconduct after that date should not face the same procedural barriers that Faye has encountered. 

However, Faye says these changes have been too slow in coming: “I think that is a bit of a smoke screen, the stuff they have changed. I think it will make a difference don't get me wrong, but I think they are trying to cover up now for the stuff they have done wrong in the past couple of years.”

“I support the changes, the changes needed to be made, and I will fight for them to be continued to be made, because other girls need to not go through what I did. But for me it was too little too late.”

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

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