A new Instagram page entitled “St Andrews Survivors” was created on Thursday 2 July 2020, with the stated aim to “expose the reality of sexual abuse at our University as well as empower survivors to share their stories anonymously and safely.”
The anonymous posts on St Andrews Survivors outline more than fifty allegations of sexual misconduct at the University of St Andrews and have provoked responses from the University, students, and AEPi St Andrews, a Jewish fraternity subject to a number of allegations.
University-wide, the allegations include rape, stealthing, witnessing rape, coercion, sexual assault, physical assault, racism, emotional abuse, attempted assault, assault, drugging, verbal abuse, sexual harassment, and domestic violence. All posts contain trigger and content warnings.
According to the administrator, within 30 hours over 100 submissions were sent to the page. Not all were published.
The page has garnered over 3,100 followers and had more than fifty posted submissions of first-hand accounts of sexual abuse in St Andrews. Several posts implicating AEPi St Andrews have been taken down.
Submissions are sent through the Google form link contained in the Instagram bio. The submission form is now temporarily closed due to “a high volume of responses”.
St Andrews Survivors is founded and run by an anonymous administrator.
On one post, the administrator noted, “I am one person trying to elevate the stories of hundreds of people in our community and I am so overwhelmed by the feedback.”
“I was not expecting so much positivity coming from a place where rape culture is so prevalent, but it gives me hope.”
They continued, “For those of you who are not survivors but want to help, please share these stories, call out the friends and organisations and societies that have been linked to these events and do your part to make St Andrews safe for everyone.”
Reactions to St Andrews Survivors have been divided, with some praising the agency it has given survivors, some disputing the safety and triggering potential of its content, and some demanding accountability for perpetrators in implicated societies.
Whilst the page has enabled conversation on sexual misconduct and destigmatised survivors’ stories, criticism has grown on the format of the page and lack of information and support for survivors.
According to one anonymous St Fessdrews social media post, the page is “a deeply reckless, triggering and insensitive way of challenging St Andrews’ deeply rooted problem with sexual assault.”
The post acknowledged the good intentions of the administrator of St Andrews Survivors, but challenged the page’s format, stating, “My rape is not your Instagram soundbite.”
It questioned how the administrator would support the survivors who had chosen the submit their stories, and the possibility of perpetrators recognising themselves in the stories and instigating backlash against victims.
The post continued, “Consider your format. Consider the ways in which you will respect and protect victim survivors, do your reading, speak to qualified professionals. This is a terrifying reality and the long-held pain of the large proportion of the St Andrews female population.”
It should be noted that the allegations of sexual misconduct also consisted of non-heteronormative interactions and sexual misconduct against men.
Despite the platform’s alleged aim of making students aware of sexual misconduct in the town, several posts describe events in survivors’ childhoods when they were not students at St Andrews.
Speaking to other survivors of sexual misconduct, the post also stated, “What you’ve suffered does not fit in a little blue square, what you’ve suffered deserves real, concrete justice, and the fullest healing you can find.”
Not all students had a negative response to the effects of the page. Those who disagreed with the St Fessdrews post commented on the empowering nature of the page to spark conversations and prevention in the community.
One social media user noted, “It’s not a place that claims to replace other coping mechanisms. I honestly really respect that something as big and as serious is always going to be a much bigger personal and potentially judicial issue than an Instagram page could ever represent. I don’t think the Instagram page is ever trying to represent all of that.”
Another student commented, “I’d always thought of St Andrews as a (relatively, at least) safe place, where these kinds of things hardly ever happened. After seeing so many people come forward, I realise how lucky and privileged I was to be able to keep up this assumption for four years.”
They continued, “If that page could act as a wakeup call for me, I reckon it will do the same for many others in a similar position. And if things are to change in the culture of the town, and the University itself, Student Services and societies that foster that culture are to be called to account, widespread awareness is super important.”
The impact of the page extends further than a debate on its ethics, with allegations of sexual misconduct by members of AEPi St Andrews (Alpha Epsilon Pi), a Jewish fraternity at the University of St Andrews. The group released a written statement.
Captions on some St Andrews Survivors posts announced that twelve anonymous allegations implicated members of AEPi St Andrews. The captions have now been removed by the administrator of the page.
AEPi St Andrews’ statement said, “Earlier today, AEPi St Andrews was made aware of allegations of sexual assault, harassment, and rape against multiple members of our fraternity including incidents at chapter events.”
“We find the contents of these allegations abhorrent, and are taking them extremely seriously. Coming forward in any capacity takes tremendous bravery, and we want to thank everyone who has both told their stories and those who have supported them as we confront these difficult issues. We hear you, and we want to help.”
It continued, “Alpha Epsilon Pi Fraternity unconditionally opposes, and its conditions of membership absolutely prohibit, any conduct considered as ‘sexual harassment’ or ‘sexual assault.’”
They asserted that the chapter was unaware of the sexual misconduct allegations before they were brought to light. After further discussion within the chapter, members “who acknowledged any role in the alleged incidents” were suspended. They are now currently entered into the Alpha Epsilon Pi’s expulsion process and the alleged incidents will be under investigation.
Furthermore, the fraternity pledged to commit AEPi to several courses of action.
This includes expanding mandatory consent and anti-rape culture education, conducting a review of the chapter leadership, creating an intervention program, and starting a campaign to raise money for charities and organisations that support survivors.
There will also be a suspension on all public events while the society re-evaluates the “entry process and event monitoring to better ensure the safety of our guests.”
In addition to this, the chapter will regularly update the community on the progress of these steps. A public forum will also be available for community advice on the chapter’s strategy.
AEPi St Andrews noted that this strategy would likely evolve with the “needs of our community and survivors” and invited the public to provide suggestions on the best way to move forward.
A spokesman for Alpha Epsilon Pi International responded to The Saint‘s queries.
Regarding how an internal investigation of the allegations would be conducted fairly and who will oversee and mediate the process, the spokesperson stated: “We will work with University and local officials to investigate these allegations. If found guilty, the individuals should be punished to the fullest extent of the law and the chapter will begin the process of expelling the individuals from Alpha Epsilon Pi International.”
He also noted that it will be up to the institutions which conduct the investigation whether the findings will be made public.
When asked how many members had been suspended, they declined to comment, stating that it “is an internal issue and will not be shared publicly.”
The spokesman disclosed that they had yet to make definite plans over the organisations with which AEPi would be partnering with, but that they are “open to suggestions from the community.”
On Friday 3 July 2020, St Andrews Jewish Society publicly released a copy of a letter sent from Hannah De Almedia newton, President of the society and Jono Mizrahi, a society member, to AEPi St Andrews.
In the letter, they informed AEPi of the allegations made against the fraternity. At the time of writing, they stated that seven of the forty-five posts on St Andrews Survivors implicated AEPi. St Andrews Jewish Society has since noted that the number had risen to twelve.
Speaking of this, the letter noted that “the frequency of accusations against members of the AEPi has caused concern for the possibility that it may have been known previously. Although we are not accusing AEPi of a cover-up, we do expect active measures to be taken immediately and that an inquiry takes place.”
It continued, “These accusations are a poor representation of the Jewish community at large in St Andrews and we cannot stand by idly as this continues.”
Addressing the public who read their post, St Andrews Jewish Society said, “We are angry and shocked at what we are witnessing. We condemn the accused actions of the members of the Chapter and from now on do not intend to continue relations between Jewish Society and the AEPi YKA Chapter.”
Clare Peddie, Proctor of the University of St Andrews, reached out to the administrator of St Andrews Survivors to release a statement:
Professor Peddie said, “The experiences shared by St. Andrews Survivors are unacceptable, and we do not underestimate their effects. The University wants St Andrews Survivors to know that these testimonies are taken seriously, and that support is available.”
“Please contact Student Services to access a specially trained advisor. Documented disclosures are vital if we want to confront this issue as effectively as we can.”
A spokeswoman of the University addressed the important issue raised by St Andrews Survivors.
She said, “The University takes seriously its duty of care to its members. If a student of the University has been the victim of sexual misconduct, we will take all reasonable steps to ensure their physical safety and facilitate access to appropriate specialist support, while respecting their feelings and decisions.”
She added, “The Proctor’s response is evidence of this commitment in action.”
“We’ll continue to proactively engage with students, student groups, the Students’ Association Director of Wellbeing, Got Consent volunteers, Rape Crisis, and Police Scotland to ensure the University is responding appropriately to student needs.”
After three days of social media silence, the St Andrews Survivors’ administrator posted an explanation for their absence on Monday 6 July 2020.
The administrator noted that the Proctor advised them to omit posts and names that “referenced a specific on-campus group or society.”
They added, “I was told that ‘including information that identifies alleged perpetrators individually, or as members of religious or social groups, may cause issues in terms of fairness, antisemitism, and student safety.’”
Speaking of the social media silence, the administrator said, “While it has been beautiful to see the outpouring of support and love, it has been deeply retraumatising to suddenly be reading hundreds of stories of sexual violence. The reason for this break was equal parts because I was made to feel like I had done wrong, but also because I needed to step away.”
The administrator noted that no new submissions would be posted indefinitely.
The recent post has caused a backlash against The University of St Andrews, with social media users commenting that the institution is “silencing survivors” and using the risk of antisemitism as an “empty claim.”
Over 25 commentators have tagged the University’s official Instagram account with one student asking, “Do you seriously think that students would be resorting to this Instagram page if they felt like that had a better option?”
AEPi St Andrews released a second statement in the wake of the backlash, stating that they had “no involvement in the removal of posts containing allegations of sexual misconduct against our members, nor do we believe these survivors’ stories in any way constitute anti-Semitism.”
This statement has now been deleted after St Andrews Survivors clarified its original post concerning the Proctor. The administrator stated that contrary to the spread of misinformation, the Proctor did not enforce the removal of information from the page but instead recommended this course of action for the safety of the administrator and survivors.
The administrator also disclosed that they had spoken with the Proctor again, along with the AVP of Diversity and the head of Student Services, who were “supportive of this account” and “receptive to this movement.”
It was further noted that the Instagram page would now be run by a team of administrators who are also survivors of sexual misconduct. They will be working with the Proctor to support and protect students.
Speaking to The Saint regarding the impact that St Andrews Survivors has had, the administrator, who wished to remain anonymous, said, “First and foremost, my motivation for starting this account is that I am a survivor of sexual violence. Since starting at St Andrews, I have heard countless stories of assault, abuse, and violence that are continually swept under the rug despite being widely known amongst students at the university.”
They continued, “I started this account with the sole intention of shedding light on the pervasiveness of sexual violence at St Andrews, and while I have received a lot of support, I am also aware that the stories shared have implicated certain campus societies and institutions. These groups have money and power behind them that I cannot contend with, and though I haven’t been outwardly threatened or contacted by any of the groups mentioned in the survivors’ stories, I was advised to remove any posts that directly referenced any one group.”
“To those who shared these stories: I am so sorry. If it were up to me, they would still be there. I am trying to protect myself so I can in turn protect this account and hopefully continue it.”
Whilst the account is not releasing posts at this time, it has become a catalyst for conversation about sexual misconduct at the University. Other platforms have now seen an increase in students anonymously coming forward about misconduct within societies and other groups.
The creation of similar platforms to St Andrews Survivors has revealed that documented disclosures of sexual misconduct at the University are taking a new form.
A Facebook page called St Survivors was created in the silence of the original St Andrews Survivors Instagram page. Likewise, the Instagram page called Hidden Voices St. Andrews was recently established for students and alumnae to “share their experiences at St. Andrews that were impacted by their race, gender identity, sexual orientation.”
If you, or someone you know, have been affected by issues highlighted in this article, please visit the following groups for help and advice:
Email: email@example.com with the subject: Support Report
Telephone: 01334 462020
Fife Rape & Sexual Assault Centre
Telephone: 01592 642336
Rape Crisis Scotland
Telephone: 08088 01 03 02
Kingdom Abuse Survivors Project
Telephone: 01592 644217
Update: 17:28, Thursday 9 July
Since the article was originally published, the University has provided a more up to date comment:
“We welcome the ‘St Andrews Survivors’ account’s efforts to provide people of all genders a space to voice their experiences of sexual misconduct. The Proctor met with the account creator this week to establish how we can work together to signpost support and reporting mechanisms to students who require them. It is categorically untrue to suggest the University tried to suppress survivor testimonies, as the account creator has made clear.
“The University’s primary concern is to ensure Survivors know that we are ready and willing to support their decisions and take action, facilitate Police reporting, and provide ongoing support accordingly. We appreciate these are difficult issues to speak about, but our Student Services team has a 90% satisfaction rating amongst students, and Survivors who wish to see perpetrators investigated must be willing to make reports through the appropriate channels.
“We have clear and established procedures for investigating allegations of this nature. However, the details of any investigations must remain confidential to offer appropriate support and fair outcomes to all concerned. It would not be appropriate for us to comment on whether any specific individual or group is under investigation.
“The University will always act when incidents are formally reported, and is committed to working collaboratively with students to promote a culture of responsibility and respect, in which everyone can trust in our procedures and that our community is intolerant of all forms of sexual misconduct.”