Exeter, Devon UK • Apr 24, 2024 • VOL XII

Exeter, Devon UK • [date-today] • VOL XII
Home News University handling of sexual assaults criticised by survivors

University handling of sexual assaults criticised by survivors

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Image: Bryony Gooch

Students have spoken out about their experiences with the University following incidents of sexual assault and domestic abuse.

A Vice Chancellor’s email to all students on 19 March reported that the University is liaising with the Devon and Cornwall Police after two sexual assaults on Exeter students took place on Streatham Campus in the early hours of Sunday 7 March.  

The University expressed that their priority is supporting any students involved as well as any who have been affected by these incidents. Vice Chancellor Professor Lisa Roberts stated: “our actions and approach have been to focus on the care, welfare and wishes of the students involved, including the communication of this incident.”

One student came forward to tell us how the email affected her after the University’s handling of her own situation. 

Following various risk assessments with her Domestic Violence and Abuse worker “it was deemed unsafe for me to stay in my home” she explained.

“I was told I cannot go into public on my own and I cannot post on social media – I was considered at high risk. The University knew this as the police had contacted them.”

“The welfare officers were lovely and reassuring,” she added. “They told me that he would be suspended or expelled by the end of that week. They also assured me that if I need emergency accommodation that would be provided for me.”

“Despite the fact that they know my ex-partner is on bail terms and legally can’t have contact with me, they have not put anything in place to make me able to engage in my classes again. We are in the same seminars, so I have missed a month of content.”

The student had to declare homeless status after the University said they could not give her any accommodation. “Luckily my DVA pushed them and they gave me accommodation for three nights in Birks.”

At the end of the period, more uncertainty followed: “I was just sat there like should I leave? Do I give my key to someone? I had nowhere to go that night. Zero communication.”

In the evening, the student was then told she could stay for two weeks.

“Eventually I went to the Guild instead and they were incredible. They sorted out permanent alternative accommodation for me within two days.

“This was over a week ago now and I have not heard a single thing from the University.”

They know my ex-partner is on bail terms… We are in the same seminars

Anonymous student

Another student also explained her feelings about the email given how the University dealt with her experience:

“I have had a sexual assault and multiple physical assaults brushed away by the University while they placated me. So to see them suddenly act like they care this much is quite an interesting pivot.” 

“I was at risk of assault and stalking before the incidents happened and I was simply given a rape alarm and shown camera-lit pathways to take on campus. 

“The majority of these interactions were with men – I distinctly recall a female senior staff member tell me that I should take the former Estate Patrol head’s brashness about a possible assault with a pinch of salt as he was an ex-army man.

“This is not at all what I would expect in the handling of sexual violence and just seemed to offer platitudes as opposed to care.”

“While I understand that raising awareness and alerting people is a good thing,” she continued, “I do think the University’s email had a tone of self-important hand-wringing. As in – I wondered would they have sent this if the perpetrators had been University students?

“I feel for all the people who read that email and remembered how the University brushed over their own assaults, simply because it was likely a member of the University community who committed them.

“This just seems like an act in damage control, but in a place where damage control isn’t appropriate or timely.”

“I personally think the Guild handles the issue of sexual assault comparatively better – the statement from them did not sound as weak as the one emailed to us.”

Just seemed to offer platitudes as opposed to care

Anonymous student

In response to these accounts, a University spokesperson said: “The safety, security and wellbeing of our students is, and always will be, our primary concern. We have put in place a wide range of safety and support measures in recent years, improved our policies and reporting system and we will continue to work with students, colleagues and community partners to tackle misogyny and violence against women – this includes a special session of the Provost Commission in April on our collective role as a community and institution. 

“It is critical that we continue to support each other and work together to keep all members of our community safe and feeling safe. We encourage all students to report and get the support they need through our Exeter Speaks Out web pages as well as our wellbeing support for students and staff or the Students’ Guild Advice Service or the Students’ Union Advice Service.” 

The reports on Streatham Campus were of two separate incidents but they have since been treated as connected. The three male suspects, an 18-year-old from Leeds and a 20 and 21-year-old from Exeter, have all been arrested and are not Exeter students.

All three have since been released on bail and no one else is being looked for in connection to the assaults. The two women involved are being supported by specialist police investigators, a Devon and Cornwall Police statement explained.

The University and Police are looking for anyone who might have any information about the events that took place that could assist the police in their investigation. If you have any information, call 101 and quote log number 90 7/3/21.

A Students’ Guild statement said: “We are deeply affected by this incident involving members of our community. Each one of us was shocked and speechless when we were notified, and we have been supporting the University response ever since. We continue to struggle to find words to conceptualise the incident, and the devastating impact it will have had on the lives of the students involved. Our thoughts are with the students impacted, and if you have been affected by this, we are here for you.

We deserve to be safe in our communities, safe in our streets, and safe in our homes. We will continue to work proactively with students and the University to improve the safety of our campus and the support available for our students – we never want this to happen again.

There is support in place through our Advice Service or the University’s Wellbeing Service, or one of the many charities and services who can provide support which we’ve listed below.

We will be increasing our work for a safer campus in the coming weeks, so please get in touch vpwelfare@exeterguild.com if you’d like to be involved in this work.

We recognise that you may feel distressed and upset reading this. You might also recall your own experiences of harassment or assault. For those affected, we’ve included links to organisations that can offer you support:”


If these issues affect you, you can get in touch with:

www.exeter.ac.uk/speakout/staysafe

www.exeter.ac.uk/wellbeing

www.exeterguild.org/advice

University helpline: 0300 555 0225

Samaritans: 116 123

Devon Rape Crisis: 01392 208756

National Rape Crisis: 0808 802 9999

Stop Abuse for Everyone (SAFE): 0303 030 0112

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