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Oxford 'dismissed rowing girl's rape', student claims

Oxford ‘dismissed rowing girl’s rape’: Student claims response of professor, who acts as Government Covid adviser, ‘made trauma worse’

  • A rower at Oxford University has claimed she was attacked by a male student
  • She claims her allegation was diminished by scientist Sir John Bell  
  • She also said a disciplinary officer told her the university couldn’t take action

Oxford University is embroiled in a rape scandal after a rower claimed she was attacked by another student athlete.

The woman says she reported the allegation to scientist Sir John Bell, the government adviser on Covid-19, who sits on the women’s boat club’s executive committee.

But she told The Times he diminished her allegation saying: ‘It’s a very toxic combination of alcohol and young athletes at university.’

Last night, in an email to the Mail, Professor Bell contested the woman’s recollection of their conversations.

The woman also said a senior disciplinary officer told her the university could not take action because she had not reported the matter to police. 

Oxford University is embroiled in a rape scandal after a rower claimed she was attacked by another student athlete

This is despite the alleged rapist writing her a letter, apologising for having ‘crossed that boundary’. The rower is a member of the Oxford University Women’s Boat Club, which is due to compete on Sunday against Cambridge as part of the annual race. Her alleged attacker was a member of another campus sports team and was seen as an elite athlete.

She told The Times that the university’s handling of her allegation ‘prolonged the trauma’ and was ‘perhaps worse than the assault’.

The attack allegedly took place after a night out in Oxford on October 25. The woman said she went back to the campus halls where the man lived and they had sex, which she does not remember. She then went to sleep, but claims he woke her up at 5am to say he wanted to have sex again.

In a report to the university, she claimed: ‘I was half asleep and did not give a verbal response to consent. He continued to grope me and then told me to turn over so he could have sex with me… He then has sex with me while I lay on my front; I do not believe I was fully awake, but drifting in and out of consciousness…

‘I do not believe that I was fully aware of what was happening, or in a position to resist due to my drunken semi-conscious state. I did not give him consent to engage in sexual intercourse and feel deeply affected by him taking advantage of my inebriation.’

The woman said she later confronted the man about the night and asked him if she had been responsive. He told her she had been ‘somewhat responsive’, she claimed.

Two days after the incident she reported the matter to his coaching team.

In his letter, the alleged attacker said: ‘I sincerely apologise for my actions. I feel terrible. It was wrong of me to have crossed that boundary… I am going to read more about consent to make sure I understand it properly.’

The woman said she sought counselling from the university but was told it would take seven weeks to arrange.

And she filed a report to the university’s proctors’ office but was told they could not do anything because she had not reported the matter to police.

She then contacted Sir John. In a Zoom call, he allegedly told her: ‘You give those guys a couple of pints of beer or too much to drink and they behave unbelievably badly. Jesus, it’s a very toxic combination of alcohol and young athletes at university, it doesn’t work at all… To be honest, this university is not very good on these student welfare/counselling type issues.’

Months after the incident, the president of the alleged rapist’s sports team threatened to resign over the issue, when the public outcry over the death of Sarah Everard was in the news.

The alleged victim said: ‘I had spent five months trying to get my voice heard, then when the president said the university would look bad in light of Sarah Everard’s death, the university suddenly decided to intervene.

‘I felt that his sporting prowess was valued above my welfare, it made me feel powerless.’

A university spokesman said: ‘While we cannot comment on individual cases in detail, we are confident that our disciplinary teams, support services and sports clubs in all cases will show great empathy and take considerable action to advise and support any student who raises concerns.’

Professor Bell said last night: ‘The comments in The Times do not reflect the tone of the meeting or how I dealt with her at those meetings.

‘These issues are for the university to manage and they told us exactly what to do and we did it – separate the two parties and encourage her to seek proper investigation by the police. She chose not to do this and hence no one was able to ascertain who was culpable.’

A member of the boat club present on the Zoom call said Professor Bell’s comments had been misrepresented. She added: ‘John was very sensitive and asked how she was, how he could help, and asked about her welfare. He did not diminish what she was saying at all.’

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