Oxford college student 'silenced by blanket gagging clause' over claim she was raped

1 April 2022, 12:15

Lady Margaret Hall at the University of Oxford.
Lady Margaret Hall at the University of Oxford. Picture: Alamy

By Sophie Barnett

A student at the University of Oxford has said a "blanket gagging clause" was imposed by her college when she alleged she was violently raped by another undergraduate.

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Lady Margaret Hall is said to have warned the student she would be expelled if she said anything about the alleged attack or the college's safeguarding policies to the press.

The woman told The Times that another student, with whom she was in a relationship, had entered her room while she was sleeping and raped her.

The man, who was not charged with any crime and strongly denied the allegation, is said to have explained that scratches on his face were a result of "rough sex" with another undergraduate.

The young woman's lawyers said that Alan Rusbridger, the college principal between 2015 and 2021, had imposed a "blanket gagging clause" on her regarding the incident.

"I've lost count of the members of staff who tried to silence, scare, threaten and undermine me," the young woman said.

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She said she was reduced to tears by Mr Rusbridger's "insistent querying" at a meeting where she asked the college to investigate.

She subsequently made a legal claim against the college, accusing it of negligence.

Mr Rusbridger, who stepped down from his role last year, said numerous staff and tutors "went to great efforts to support and protect a student who alleged she had been attacked by her partner".

He said it was "disappointing" to read a "one-sided account of a distressing and delicate episode at Lady Margaret Hall".

"Both the police and the college mounted thorough investigations into the alleged attack but were unable to determine what had happened to the required burdens of proof," he said.

"The student's subsequent legal case was met with a response which firmly disputed, denied or rebutted the great majority of claims about the handling of the issue."

Mr Rusbridger said that it was untrue there had been a "gagging order" but that the student had posted her allegation that she had been raped on Facebook, where her partner was "clearly identifiable", while a police investigation was still active.

"The student was advised of the obvious risks involved in this posting: she apologised and volunteered to delete all her social media accounts," he said.

He claims the college had provided counselling for the student, as well as a bodyguard on one occasion and a panic alarm.

The student's claim was reportedly settled last week by the college's new principal, Christine Gerrard, who agreed to pay damages and meet the woman's legal costs.

A spokesman for Lady Margaret Hall said: "Lady Margaret Hall (LMH) does not comment on individual student cases and cannot respond to points made about individual student cases in the article."

They added that the college "has recognised that there is scope for improvement in our non-academic disciplinary procedures, which includes how the college deals with allegations of sexual assault and harassment" and that it had established a working party currently reviewing these procedures.

"The college is working positively with members of the 'It Happens Here' (IHH) campaign (part of the University of Oxford Student Union), to learn from their experience and expertise," they added.

"In a recent meeting with IHH we agreed to sign a pledge not to use NDAs in sexual harassment and misconduct cases.

"A particular concern in our discussions has been the under-reporting of sexual assaults and we are working to support students to report offences. We recognise that students' confidence in how their reports will be dealt with is of key importance."

A University of Oxford spokesperson said: "We are aware that reporting of sexual misconduct remains low in the university community, as it does in the wider society, and the University continues to put measures in place to encourage those affected to feel empowered to seek support.

"Since the establishment of the Sexual Harassment and Violence Support Service, we have seen increasing numbers of students coming forward and we would encourage anyone affected by this very serious issue to seek support. We can then help them understand their options and offer full support throughout the process. This support includes any necessary measures to help them complete their studies."

The young woman is said to be one of eight past or present students who had spoken or written to The Times about what they describe as the college's mishandling of sexual misconduct cases.

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