Illustration by Kate Towsey for Varsity

Content Note: This article contains detailed discussion of rape and recovery from rape, and detailed discussion of sexual harassment.

I’m not sure whether the senior figures gave much thought to how their decision to readmit Peter Hutchinson, made last week, would affect students like me: those who have been abused or harassed by fellows at this university. They were probably busy stuck between the thought of a media firestorm and of an alleged threatened lawsuit to give it much consideration. In the flurry of all that, we may have slipped quietly, uncomfortably by. I can’t say I’d be surprised.

In my first year at Cambridge, I was raped by a university academic. Now, seeing Trinity Hall’s actions, I am reminded why I never reported the crime. I have spent years being angry at myself for not reporting what happened to me, but now I am angry with this institution. I am angry with the culture which gives a slap on the wrist to harassers and abusers. I am angry with the ‘behind closed doors’ protection of those in power. Angry to hear that, time after time, people are retraumatised, ostracised and mishandled whenever they attempt to report something like this. Angry to hear that it has happened again.

Reporting, to me, had never seemed like a viable option. Although I had experienced sexual trauma before, the fear and shame that overwhelmed me following this incident was completely new.

I went into a state of immediate denial, taking months to tell even my closest friends the full extent of what had happened. When I needed a coursework extension that term, after being unable to focus on my studies, I sat in front of my Director of Studies – a brilliant, kind and supportive woman, who I have no doubt would have supported me should I have chosen to report – and I lied.

Whether they were aware of it or not, they offered him a protective shield

I played down what had happened, never daring to mention that it was a university fellow out of fear that she would, through the best intentions, make me report it. My days were spent living in constant fear that it would somehow get out to somebody and I would be put on trial in front of the university. My mind created images of a humiliating interrogation and a public character assassination by tall old men sat behind a table somewhere in Senate House.

Although this paranoia was exaggerated by my mental state at the time, the root of it wasn’t unfounded. It was born through countless stories I had heard of students attempting to come forward – some close friends, some strangers. Stories of cases being mishandled, individuals who gave testimonies being treated with mistrust and suspicion, colleges begrudgingly taking on cases only to fill them with errors and delays.
Stories just like that of Peter Hutchinson. Although I am ashamed to admit it, the thought of reporting my rapist and going through that lengthy and re-traumatising process had become even more horrifying than the thought of him being able to continue in his position at this university. So, I stayed silent.

The last thing I want to do is to discourage anybody who has gone through what I have from reporting. There are wonderful systems in place to help you – the Sexual Assault and Harrassment Advisor is brilliant, and you even have an option to report incidents anonymously so they can be added to university data, should you feel unable to come forward and file a formal complaint. I am writing this article in the hope that, by raising awareness of the hostile environment this university has created for people who have faced assault, this hostility can change, a safer space can be created, and people can feel more comfortable in reporting.

The issue for me remains that these wonderful, above-board support networks, the anti-harassment posters hung up around faculties and colleges, seem to be up against something else: The quiet, unspoken, and grumbling presence of college and university higher powers. The men behind closed doors. Those who invited my rapist to exclusive dinners, lauded him as an upstanding member of college life, who laughed along with his small comments about women’s bodies and never stopped to consider if there could be something sinister behind them.

Trinity Hall’s decision does not exist in a vacuum

Whether they were aware of it or not, they offered him a protective shield, a clear message that he was favoured, that reporting his actions would be an uphill battle that I simply did not have the strength to face. The only thing that made this ordeal even slightly bearable was that this individual was not a part of my faculty or college.

Even though he didn’t hold direct control over me, the indirect control was still enough to be crushing. If I did have a more immediate relationship with him, had to see him around college or even be supervised by him, I don’t think I would have been able to continue with my studies at this university.

Seeing Hutchinson’s readmittance was a stark realisation for me that, even if I jumped through all the hoops, even if other people came forward and they all jumped through those same hoops, even if we eventually won - a feat that seemed so insurmountable I’d barely even considered it an option - in a year or two it could come to mean nothing.


Mountain View

Open letter blasts readmittance of Trinity Hall fellow accused of sexual harassment

He could quietly slip back in through a back door opened up by colleagues in the hopes nobody would notice. The chances of gaining justice now seem so infinitely small that I’m beginning to doubt if they even exist at all.

Trinity Hall’s decision does not exist in a vacuum. This isn’t as simple as an abstract ethical debate on Cambridge’s policies and practises, but rather is a decision which has immediate effects on the lives of students who have had to endure similar behaviour at the hands of staff members like Hutchinson.

Make no mistake: it was continuous acts made by this university that made me feel as though reporting was never an option, and which allowed my rapist to continue to this very day to be in a position of power at this university, a position he can continue to exploit.

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