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#ShameOnYouWarwick: How a University Failed to Support Female Students Threatened with Rape

Trigger warning: sexual assault

 

During the past week, the University of Warwick (currently ranked in the world's top 50 universities) has faced heavy criticism upon its decision to revoke a 10-year-ban on several male students involved in an online 'rape' group chat.

After screenshots of the chat were released on the internet, Warwick university made the decision last semester to temporarily suspend 11 students. The private Facebook group chat involved rape jokes, rape threats and racist comments (including anti-semitic comments). The chat was so vulgar and so shocking that screenshots were leaked onto the University's student-ran newspaper.

Below are some examples of the sickening comments made:  

One boy claims that a girl he knows "deserves hair straighteners on her [vaginal] flaps." He also writes that another girl he knows - who claims to have been sexually assaulted - is "simply not attractive enough for all of those things to occur to her." Another male student asserted that a girl he knows "deserves to be fingered vigorously by her own dad to teach her a lesson" and later referred to the same girl as a "cum bucket." The same student also asked "Why is it always the moany fucks who have things happen to them" when referring to sexual assault. He also claimed that "None of that shit happened [referring to sexual assault] and she just overthinks everything". Another student wrote "Love Hitler, hate N****s and jews…" The chat was also named "Fuck women disrespect them all."

 

It was also revealed that the participants of this group chat were high ranking committee members of the university's History Society. This put them in a position of power over other students within the university.

Following an investigation - in which the female victims were made to feel as if they were the ones who were on trial - two of the male students received a 10-year ban from the University. However, after an appeal made by the male students, this was revoked to a mere 12-month ban. This led to a public outcry which resulted in the hashtag #ShameOnYouWarwick on Twitter.

Furthermore, fellow members of staff have written to the provost of the university, stating that they will refuse to teach the male students involved in the chat. Moreover, teaching staff also argued that the students of the History Department should have the choice as to whether or not they wish to be in the same conferences as the perpetrators.

Perhaps more shockingly, the victims were also made to feel as if they were the perpetrators during the investigation. Despite making a formal complaint to the university, one student was told that she was an unreliable witness. Moreover, the girls were asked intimate questions about their relationship with the boys in the original group chat and whether they had had intercourse. I know that if I was in this position, I would be absolutely mortified. I know I am not the only one.

One victim of the group chat - Megan - spoke to the BBC, claiming that "I think it's disgusting. It's rape culture. Allowing people to behave like this is perpetuating society's belief that 'boys will be boys'". Moreover, Megan revealed that "I don't think anyone higher up in the institution has got back to us. I think it's appalling, I think they haven't really looked after girls at the university and the people mentioned in particular."

 

Another victim of the chat - who wishes to remain nameless - wrote an open letter to the president of the University (which can be read on the student-ran website The Boar). Here, she discusses how she felt as if she was on trial and received no support during the investigation:

 

"We came to the University with hard evidence and good faith the problem would be addressed. Rather, we faced an interrogation and sexist lines of questioning. The Investigating Officer brandished one of us as an “unreliable witness”. He did so in the report which went to the Discipline Committee to guide their decision-making. That my experience of the interview process was so horrendous is inconceivable, given the hard evidence provided. I can only imagine the trauma victims of physical and sexual assault must face when coming forward to the University in good faith they will be trusted. This is the culture the University is fostering; one which protects perpetrators and alienates victims."

 

"If one of your colleagues made these comments about you, I doubt you would settle for any outcome other than them being fired. I doubt you would work alongside a colleague who had said they would mutilate your genitals or brutally sexually assault you. Why do you expect anything different from your students? How do you expect your staff to teach them? How do you expect your students to sit in seminars with them?  Most importantly, how do you expect current and future students to feel safe in a university which welcomes back individuals who have created an atmosphere which you have described yourself as ‘dehumanising, humiliating and revolting’?" 

 

"This now moves beyond this individual case, and tells students where the University’s priorities lie; money and reputation. The irony is, your reputation is irreparably damaged, and you stand to lose money as donors and prospective students remove themselves from the Warwick community."

 

"The men involved in the chat did not sit their exams last year. I will now spend my exam season feeling terrified to be on my own campus. Victims are studying abroad this year and cannot return to a campus where they feel safe. Victims are completing Masters degrees here and cannot return to a campus where they feel safe. Victims had to take a year out for their own well-being after this chat was released.  They cannot return to a campus where they feel safe. Victims are on 4 year courses and cannot return to a campus where they feel safe. Victims are in their second year of study, and cannot return for a third year without fear of being in seminars with men who racially discriminatedagainst them and discussed raping them. They will not feel safe. The University has failed in its duty of care. I implore you to think harder and to do better."

 

After such a large public outcry, the students whose original 10-year-ban was lifted have decided that they will not be returning to the university.

Please, if you feel as passionate about this situation as I do, then help to make the victims' voices heard by using the hashtag #ShameOnYouWarwick. These girls should never have had to face such a situation.

 

Image sources taken from:

https://theboar.org/2018/05/warwick-students-temporarily-suspended/

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