Peaceful vigil to be held outside Union

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utside the Oxford Union today to protest against the Society’s “casual response” to rape and sexual assault allegations brought against President Ben Sullivan.

The protest was organised on Facebook in response to last week’s debate, in which a motion of No Confidence failed to be passed against Sullivan.  The demonstration also targets more general concerns such as the Union’s refusal to organise sexual consent workshops for members.

According to the event’s Facebook page, which currently has over 300 attendees, the vigil hopes to express “anger and concern at the deeply regrettable culture within the Oxford Union”.

Protest organiser Aliya Yule, an undergraduate at Wadham, said the protest originated with “a group of students who left the No Confidence debate on Thursday feeling very angry and distressed by the way in which the debate was conducted”.

The event’s Facebook page cites the failure of Alex Trafford, chair of the debate, to select “more than one woman to speak before shouts from the floor demand he do so”, and allege that he “deliberately ignored Union members who wanted to speak against the President because they were competitive debaters” whilst selecting President¬ Elect Mayank Banerjee to speak twice in defence.

The organisers also complain that speakers in opposition to the motion of No Confidence “showed no regard for the fact that survivors of sexual violence attended the debate”, and accuse one of “being verbally and physically aggressive during his speech…despite individuals in the chamber becoming visibly distressed.”

Yule also called upon the Union “to show that it cares about combating rape culture, by holding compulsory consent workshops for all committee members at the very least” .

She demanded “an apology from the Union to demonstrate that it understands how its behaviour since the allegations came to light has been insensitive to survivors of sexual assault, particularly regarding the way in which the debate was conducted last Thursday”.

A Union spokesman said the Society “applauds” the organisers’ efforts to encourage institutions to take rape allegations seriously, but rejects any allegation that last week’s motion of No Confidence failed to do this.  

In a statement, the spokesman commented: “Members had a free and open debate last Thursday, which lasted almost two hours, on how to respond to the current situation. They decided –  overwhelmingly by 254 to 101 – that the Union can take allegations of sexual violence seriously without passing a Motion of No Confidence, which could have had a number of unintended consequences.”

The spokesman added: “The Union at no point ‘refused’ to hold consent workshops. We will be holding consent workshops open to all students at the beginning of Michaelmas, and we look forward to continue co-hosting events with OxWIP and Atalanta’s. The President and President-Elect also intend to introduce a Rules Change which would provide a mechanism for the members to remove a Junior Officer.”

Ben Sullivan was arrested on suspicion of rape and attempted rape on 7th May, and is currently on bail without charge.