A former Oxford student has failed in her attempt sue the University for neglecting to properly investigate her rape claim, after accusing the institution of a “discriminatory stance on sexual assault”.
Elizabeth Ramey, a former Master’s student at St Antony’s College, attempted to overturn the University’s policy on investigating complaints of sexual assault after she was allegedly raped by a fellow student in 2011.
After the Crown Prosecution Service decided not to pursue the case for evidential reasons, Ramey pursued a claim through the University’s complaint procedure, but claims that Oxford authorities failed to take sufficient action against the alleged perpetrator.
Ramey stated: “Although I reported the incident to the university, the case was never seriously investigated, making my periods of anxiety and depression deeper and more frequent. It became clear that the University’s policy is not to investigate severe forms of sexual assault, except in extremely limited circumstances.”
The University suspended the accused student for three months, but later allowed him to return after the CPS declined to prosecute. A letter from a junior proctor stated that there was little “tangible” evidence for the crime, and noted that if the male student was brought to an internal disciplinary panel, he would be forced to answer an accusation of rape that had not been tested in a criminal court.
An internal University memo suggested that the alleged attacker should 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.”
Ramey continued: “Oxford has chosen to wash its hands of sexual assault specifically, which predominantly affects women. What the university fails to understand is how important it is to survivor’s welfare to provide a fair hearing to those who come forward to report. When the university says it will not investigate rape, it sends a message to survivors that it values the reputation of the offender more than the well-being of the victim.”
Her case failed in the High Court because it was based on a now defunct University policy. According to her solicitor Louise Whitfield, however, Justice Edis recognised that the issues raised were significant, and stated that a policy in which the University only investigated rape under limited circumstances could be unlawful.
Whitfield told The Guardian: “We have already been contacted by other women students whose experiences have been similar to Ms Ramey’s and are considering whether a further claim should be brought.”
The Equality and Human Rights Commission and the End Violence Against Women Coalition supported Ramey’s case.
Rape and sexual assault has become a hot-button in Oxford during recent years, with one student, writing under the pseudonym Maria Marcello, attracting widespread publicity last year after claiming she was raped in her student bedroom after a game of poker. Thames Valley Police, Marcello claimed, pressured her to drop the allegations.
A University spokesperson told The OxStu: “The University notes the outcome of this morning’s hearing and welcomes the decision not to proceed with a judicial review of its harassment policy.”