Saturday 10 December 2016

Ex student sues Oxford University over 'failure to properly investigate rape'

Olivia Goldhill and Victoria Ward

Published 07/05/2015 | 08:27

Elizabeth Ramey, 29, is alleging that the university failed to properly investigate when she was raped by a fellow student
Elizabeth Ramey, 29, is alleging that the university failed to properly investigate when she was raped by a fellow student

A former Oxford University student is taking legal action against the university, alleging that it failed to properly investigate when she was raped by a fellow student.

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Elizabeth Ramey, 29, will argue that the university’s policy not to investigate allegations of rape, except in extremely limited circumstances, is unlawful and discriminatory.

She is hoping that her case, which will be heard by a judge on Friday and is being funded by the Equality & Human Rights Commission, will force a change in policy and prevent other potential victims from having to endure a similar experience.

“The university has carved out a specific exception only for the most severe forms of sexual assault, which overwhelmingly affect women,” she said.

“That is blatantly discriminatory. I want the university to remove the special exception that they’ve created and develop a system to investigate internally cases of sexual assault.

“I’m not going to get justice on an individual level but if I can make it even slightly easier for the next person, then I will feel like something constructive has come out of all the pain and the difficulty and the challenges of the last four years.”

Ms Ramey, who lives in Washington DC, was studying for a Masters in African Studies at St Antony’s College when she reported that she was raped by a fellow student in June 2011.

She was told that the college could not take action unless the incident had been reported to the police and so went to Thames Valley Police to give a statement.

The alleged perpetrator was suspended but three months later, the CPS announced its decision not to pursue the case due to a lack of evidence and the perceived likelihood of conviction.

A letter written by the university’s junior proctor tasked with investigating Ms Ramey’s case, noted that there was little “tangible” evidence and that even if the male student was brought before an internal disciplinary panel, he would be forced to answer an allegation of rape that had not been tested by a jury in a criminal court.

An internal memo suggested that the man be spoken to and advised to be “more careful in the future about putting himself in situations with female students which are open to misinterpretation” before the case was closed.

According to court papers, the university admitted that while it would consider each case on its merits, it would be unlikely to conduct its own investigation into an allegation of serious assault that has already been the subject of a police investigation.

Ms Ramey’s application for judicial review argues that its guidelines on harassment fail to comply with equality laws.

It describes them as “perverse” and says they could put women students at greater risk of assault if opportunities to create a safer environment are missed.

“The more serious an assault upon a woman, the less likely the university will take action to investigate and potentially take disciplinary action,” the papers state.

“The result for women students is very severe indeed.”

An Oxford University spokesperson said: "The University is robustly defending this application on all grounds and Ms Ramey’s application has already been refused permission on the papers.

"The harassment policy was developed through consultation with students and other interested parties and had regard to practice across UK higher education generally."

Sarah Green, acting director of the End Violence Against Women Coalition, said: "There are crisis levels of sexual assaults and harassment in our universities.

“We admire Elizabeth Ramey's strength and determination to pursue justice, but are appalled that the response to abuse in one of our top universities is so bad that it has come to litigation.

"Universities have a clear obligation to ensure good processes are in place if sexual assault is reported so that women students know their safety has been considered, and in order to deter assaults.”

In March, EVAW Coalition representatives met with Business Secretary Vince Cable, who said that more should be done by universities to address sexual assault on campus and agreed that the next business secretary, post election, should raise this issue with university vice chancellors.

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