With almost two thirds (62%) of students having been subjected to sexual violence, and nearly one in 10 claiming to have been raped while at university (double the national average), it's clear that higher education establishments have a very real problem with sexual assault and harassment. One university has come under fire more intensely than others of late, for its mishandling of allegations of threatening behaviour on campus.
According to reports in The Sunday Times this weekend, Warwick University failed to inform police after it recently expelled a student for allegedly raping a young woman on his course in 2018. Not only that but after his expulsion, which followed a decision by a university disciplinary panel, the student had been allowed to use university facilities and take part in sports events – making it impossible for his alleged victim to avoid him on campus.
The alleged victim filed her complaint soon after the Warwick University rape chat scandal – which is the subject of a harrowing new BBC documentary – hit headlines last year. Both cases offer an alarming insight into how allegations of sexual violence are routinely mishandled by institutions.
In The Warwick Uni Rape Chat Scandal, available to watch on BBC iPlayer now, we hear from those at the heart of the story, in which male students made horrifying rape threats against female students in a Facebook group chat. When two of the men's 10-year campus bans were cut to just 12 months, the university's handling of the investigation came under serious criticism.
"Rape the whole flat to teach them a lesson"; "Oh god. I would hate to be in the firing line if I had a vagina"; "I swear to god if it's that girl in my flat, I'm going to go all 1945 advancing Soviet Army on her and rape her in the street while everybody watches"; "Rape her and run".
Those were just a handful of the messages circulated about several of the university's female students, so it's no wonder that the women named in the chat expected their complaints to be taken seriously – with appropriate punishments implemented – by the university.
But when one student, 19-year-old Anna, and her friend who had also been targeted in the group chat, complained to the university, something seemed off. It emerged that the man who would be interviewing them about their complaints, Peter Dunn, whose job it was to examine allegations of misconduct and hand out potential punishments to the male students, was also head of the university's press office and tasked with protecting Warwick's reputation.
The university admitted there was "potential for conflict" between Dunn's roles, but claimed his relevant press duties were handled by another member of staff during the investigation. Regardless, Anna said it "felt really violating" that "[the] person that's writing press statements knows such intimate details about my life. It was a very surreal experience."
When the male students' expulsions were decided, Anna and her friend found out through the media rather than from the university itself. Not only that, but when the male students appealed and their bans were reduced to just 12 months, the women never received an explanation from the university.
"There's always a constant anxiety and constant fear that you don't know when you're going to see these people," Anna told the BBC. When a female student involved in the case shared her story on Twitter, #ShameOnYouWarwick began trending and the university came under national criticism for its handling of the case.
The impact on Anna will be long-lasting, she said: "The university caused so much pain and so much damage and this is carrying on over a year later," adding that the "most damaging" part was "the trauma of feeling strong enough to come forward and being punished for that by the university". "I don't want to go to my graduation. I just can't wait to never have to go to Warwick ever again."
Responding to the documentary, Warwick said it "apologise[d] for any part we played in causing distress to members of our community" and that it was implementing "changes which minimise the chances of these mistakes being repeated".