The University of St Andrews is providing funding for a specialist sexual assault counsellor following claims of unchecked “rape culture” on campus.
Many of the allegations were made via the St Andrews Survivors Instagram account. Started in July 2020, the page allows those who have experienced sexual violence at the University to anonymously share their experiences. At the time of writing, the account hosts 286 stories of sexual assault and harassment experienced by students at the university.
It was previously revealed that the University itself recorded 47 cases of sexual assault and harassment in the last four years. However, there have been criticisms of how reports of sexual misconduct have been handled.
A recent BBC documentary featured two former St Andrews students, who felt that the University had made mistakes in the handling of their complaints.
One of the students, known as “Megan”, explained how she decided not to proceed with her complaint after being asked questions she felt were accusatory in nature, or akin to victim-blaming.
She said, “She asked how much alcohol I had last night, and just when I stated what had happened, I felt that her response was pretty hopeless sounding.
“The woman that I was working with is not to blame, it’s just a very bureaucratic system.”
The University rejected the claims made in the BBC documentary saying, “We categorically refute the allegations of poor handling made by the BBC and have documentary proof that they are without foundation.
“We also know the BBC dismissed the testimony of a rape survivor who wished to talk positively about university support, and ignored others who expressed a similar view.
“We will continue to work with our students to understand what may be missing in the application of policy and safeguards and to create an environment in which all survivors trust and believe that we care deeply.”
In an attempt to continue to support survivors, the University of St Andrews is funding a specialist sexual assault counsellor who will be available 3 days a week to support students wishing to disclose incidents of sexual violence.
Speaking to The Times, a University spokesperson stated, “The new position, which will be based on campus 3.5 days per week, will allow students the flexibility to support from the university counselling team, and the expertise of the Fife Rape and Sexual Assault Centre (Frasac) sexual violence counselling specialist.
“Our student counsellors are trained by Rape Crisis Scotland, and our counselling and wellbeing service is accredited by the Royal College of Psychiatrists and the British Psychological Society.
“Universities now face the immense challenge of simultaneously educating students about consent, while creating an environment in which they can come forward to disclose sexual violence, and know that they will be listened to, supported, and looked after.”
The University’s current “Report and Support” programme offers both an anonymous reporting option, and one where students can report with contact details. Per the university website, “if you choose not to provide your name or contact details, this may constrain the University’s ability to take any action and we will not be able to contact you to offer advice/ support or provide a progress update on the case,” whereas those who elect to submit their name and contact details will be contacted within three working days by university advisors.
It is important to note that, according to the University, going through the “Report and Support” system “does not normally initiate a formal complaints process. Any information you provide at this stage will remain private and confidential unless we believe there is a serious safety, welfare, or a duty of care concern.” Additionally, students may contact the Student Conduct Officer, the police, or Crimestoppers.
Student Conduct Officer, Claire Hillson:
+44 (0)1334 46 3445.
0800 555 111
This article was amended at the behest of the University of St Andrews.