Corpus reluctant to instigate new sexual assault policy

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERAStudents at Corpus Christi have called for a  specific sexual assault policy to replace the current college procedure in place dealing with sexual assault incidents.

Certain JCR members have complained that the College has been unclear about the procedure for submitting the potential policy, and that their proposals have been discussed and rejected without adequate consultation.

However, the College has stated that it wishes to handle such cases in keeping with University procedure, and that any changes will be part of broader, University-wide policy.

Following a JCR meeting at the end of Hilary term, the Corpus JCR voted in favour of expressing their support for a distinct sexual assault policy. But debate over the policy’s wording was heated, with one JCR member complaining that the proposed definition of consent was “restrictive”.

Several amendments were made to the policy; and whilst it was agreed that “silence is not consent”, JCR members rejected a clause which stated that consent had to be given verbally.

Additionally, a rule stating that those accused of sexual assault would have to move rooms at the alleged victim’s request was changed. Instead, the policy as it stands allows the victim to change rooms if they wish to do so.

The policy still goes beyond typical college protocol for dealing with such cases. It obligates the college to put in place schedule changes to protect the victim, encourages both anonymous and non-anonymous reporting of assaults, and asks that the college cover any expenses (such as travel costs) associated with the treatment of students following an incident.

The College has defended its decision to adhere to established policy, saying that current measures provide sufficient care for victims.

Senior Tutor Neil McLynn and Welfare Dean Judith Maltby stated: “The College takes sexual violence very seriously and is grateful to the JCR for its part in heightening awareness and for its input. The College is actively engaged with professional services in the central University towards developing a University-wide response.”

In response to questions over how the College had handled its students’ concerns, they said that “over a dozen consultations” had taken place concerning the policy with a range of JCR and MCR members and fellows of the college, as well as professionals from both the NHS and the University, in addition to “detailed” written information delivered to JCR and MCR officers.

Abigail Burman, a fresher Historian and Equal Ops officer at Corpus, has been principally responsible for putting together the policy.

Quoting the NUS statistic that one in four female undergraduates will experience some form of sexual violence whilst at university, Burman said: “Until there is a specific policy in place to address sexual violence, neither the college nor the JCR will be able to fulfill their welfare obligations.  We deeply appreciate the college’s dedication to providing support to people who ask for it, but sexual violence can’t be handled on an ad hoc basis.”

She continued: “We had a chance to take a really exciting step towards supporting survivors and halting the epidemic of sexual violence, and it’s unfortunate that the governing body was not willing to take this step with us.  But we hope that this is simply the beginning of the conversation about how Corpus can take a stand against sexual violence.”

Hannah Murphy and Jamie Wells, Corpus’ Welfare Reps, said: “There needs to be a policy on sexual violence, and it would have been fantastic if college would have endorsed the one put forward. However we understand the University is bringing one out, with consultation beginning in Michaelmas, and so understand college’s reasoning in not implementing our policy.”

Veronica Heney, a second year History and English student at the college, expressed concern at the attitude of the college to incidents of sexual assault, saying: “I feel that they have not communicated clearly with the JCR about their reasons for dismissing the proposal and this has made it seem as though they do not care about the issue, or do not feel that it is important[…]I personally would feel a lot safer if there was a clear policy in place.”

One Corpus JCR member who claimed that they had experienced sexual violence said that the help they received from both college and university services was inadequate.

They stated: “In the months after my assault I really needed help, and I really needed someone to talk to, but I had no idea who I could go to.  When I did finally decide to tell someone in college, I never heard anything back.”

Suzanne Holsomback, Women’s Officer at OUSU, commented: “Over the past five years , OUSU has lobbied the University to update and rewrite their Harassment Policy. This past Hilary Term, OUSU was successful in having the policy rewritten to include in the policy guidance how to best work with survivors of sexual violence. It is hoped that colleges also adopt similar policies and build off this basic foundational policy.”

A similarly strict policy has been put in place at Wadham earlier this term, after its Student Union voted that anyone accused of sexual assault at a college run Entz event would be “swiftly ejected”.

The debate comes alongside University-wide action against sexual violence, with the OUSU campaign ‘It Happens Here’ launched earlier this month.