The University of Warwick found itself making headline news this week. The news concerned a student-led protest and open letter directed at the University, criticising its handling of allegations of sexual misconduct taking place on its campus. The University has been accused of facilitating a toxic environment and rape culture. Anger at the institution can be traced back to two years ago when messages from a private Facebook chat were posted online. The messages were part of a Warwick University group chat in which male students posted sexually violent threats about their fellow course mates. In response to the scandal, the perpetrators received “minor disciplinary charges” (iNews). Warwick expelled one, who was also given a life-time campus ban, banned two for ten years, and banned two others for twelve months. However, those banned for ten years soon had their bans reduced to twelve months.
Now, two years on, “five women, including one who said she had been raped on campus, told the Guardian the university had not addressed the toxic culture exposed” those years ago. (The Guardian). As for the letter – written by an anonymous student and addressed to Warwick’s Vice-Chancellor Stuart Croft – it exposes some harsh realities regarding the University. The student eloquently writes to Croft:
“These are your students impacted here, the same students that you vowed to protect, and whom you have a duty of care towards. The University of Warwick is one of the top institutions in the UK, yet its students, the leaders of tomorrow, are suffering.”(The Boar)
Warwick attests that they care for the survivors of sexual violence, claiming that they are “committed to providing a campus environment in which all members of our community feel safe and are respected” (The Boar). From many students’ perspectives though, they simply do not care enough.
Now, students are taking matters into their own hands. A recent petition, created by student Laila Ahmed, demands Warwick to take serious action against sexual assaults on campus. According to Laila: “Higher sanctions need to be in place for perpetrators who are found guilty of any sexual misconduct and the law around this needs to be amplified to students” (Change). Students are angry that “Warwick is not doing enough for its students wellbeing”, with many feeling “lost and isolated with no information on how to get support” (Change).
Warwick University, and universities in general, do not handle sexual assault cases with due care, nor do they create a safe environment for victims of assault. Too often students’ experiences are downplayed, rape culture is explained away as harmless banter, and victims are subject to lengthy, over-complicated reporting processes that makes reporting a sexually violent crime incredibly taxing, hence deterring students from reporting an incident. It is issues like these that institutions need to resolve to ensure their students feel safe on and off campus.
The news from Warwick is a sign of a much bigger problem, a single case amongst the masses of overlooked and underreported cases of sexual violence at Universities. Of course, Warwick is not alone. Higher Education institutions generally respond poorly to reports of sexual assault. In fact, data obtained this year showed that forty-five UK Universities used bribes to silence sexual assault accusers (Insider). More specifically, take The University of St. Andrews, Bolton, Oxford, Birmingham, Sheffield, as examples of the pervasiveness of rape culture in academic institutions. Astoundingly, “more than half of UK students say they have faced unwanted sexual behaviour” (The Guardian). These cases are not isolated incidents, but rather symptoms of a deadly rape culture that university institutions and our society in general persistently fail to address.
Written by Zoe Bracegirdle