Wadham Student Union has voted overwhelmingly in favour of a motion which takes a zero-tolerance policy on sexual harassment.
The policy was passed in last Saturday’s meeting with a two thirds majority, but not before over an hour of fierce debate on the issue had taken place.
The motion included clauses mandating that any person accused of sexual assault- the definition of which includes any inappropriate touching of a person who has not consented- at Wadham entz events should be “swiftly ejected,” and emphasized that, “ignorance of the zero-tolerance policy will not be treated as a valid defence.” Continued controversy led to a proposed amendment to vote in a secret ballot, which was not passed.
Anna Bradshaw, the SU Women’s officer, stated: “I’m delighted that the motion passed, and am looking forward to working with the SU and college to work out the finer details and put it into practice. With Wadstock this weekend, I’m so pleased that all attending will know that they are at a zero-tolerance event.”
The Wadham SU motion follows an NUS campaign of zero tolerance of sexual harassment, itself a response to a 2010 survey in which one in seven women were reported to have been the victims of sexual assault or serious sexual violence at university.
However, the SU President Jahnavi Emmanuel opposed the motion in a personal capacity. She explained her reasons, commenting: “I personally think there is a problem with the idea that any individual could be instantly ejected from a bop or other college event without any chance to appeal or question what happened until after the event.”
She said: “I completely understand the validity of these arguments and I do agree with them. Victims of sexual harassment and assault are frequently made to feel that they are being overly-sensitive or even lying about their experiences – this should never happen.” However Emmanuel added “that it is difficult to justify overriding an innocent-until-proven-guilty policy.”
Maeve Scullion, a Wadham second year student and seconder of the motion, commented: “Opposition to the motion focused upon the possibility of false accusations. False accusations are no more common in cases of sexual assault or harassment than in any other crime – and, considering the culture of keeping silent around these particular crimes, the estimated percentage of false accusations for every sexual crime perpetrated is even lower.
“Sexual harassment is a crime and it is unacceptable everywhere.”
She added: “Wadham has been known as the ‘liberal’ college and I feel that the motion is reflective of this ethos. It will protect a person’s right not to feel threatened at college events. There is no such thing as the right to grope absolute strangers. This motion should not be in conflict with anyone’s normal bop-night pulling protocol.”
Sarah Pine, OUSU VP elect (Women) who is also at Wadham, said: “I ran…on a platform of highlighting and tackling assault and harassment. I will work with the university on their currently substandard harassment policy, work with colleges to implement it and raise awareness of the prevalence of the issue.
“Zero tolerance is a positive step towards that and I’d really like other students to push it through their common rooms. I also will work on the considerable male dominance in student leadership and the finals gap.”
A survey conducted by the OxStu last week revealed that one in six female students at Oxford have been sexually assaulted, with 34.5% per cent of female students disclosing that they have been sexually harassed and 6.7 per cent of male students reporting being sexually harassed.