It Happens Here and SpeakOut Oxford, groups that aim to raise awareness about sexual violence at Oxford and push to make sure the right systems are in place to hold perpetrators to account, have published their open letter to Vice Chancellor Professor Louise Richardson. The open letter, which outlines concerns about the Oxford Sexual Violence and Harassment Support Service, is gaining traction, and had 242 signatures at the time of publication.
This follows an investigation published in Cherwell that revealed that the University Sexual Violence and Harrassment service and supporting both those accused of sexual violence and victims, information not given on their website.
The letter details that the service was launched in 2018 under the campaign “Oxford Against Sexual Violence”. It argues that withholding from students the fact that it is handling the cases of both alleged perpetrators and victims “removes their agency, something they may feel has already been threatened by what they have been through.”
It re-states the response from the University to the findings of the investigation, that “the University has never made any secret of the fact that the Sexual Harrassment and Violence Support service is intended for anyone affected. This includes survivors and those accused. The marketing of the Service is focussed on our primary user group, student survivors seeking helo. The communications through posters and the website reflect this focus and need.”
The Service’s website contains no obvious mention of working with those accused, introduced only with, “If you have experienced sexual harassment and violence in any form, we are here for you – whoever you are, whatever has happened, and whenever it was.”
A statement made earlier this week by It Happens Here concerning the investigations states, “the Sexual Harassment and Violence Support Service was advertised as a separate safe and supportive space for victims and survivors. The issue the article brings to light is that transparency is needed, and those who sought help were not informed that who they’re speaking to could be handling their perpetrator’s case. There is genuine concern and upset about this, because it is very unsettling for victims/survivors to think that they may by chance run into their perpetrator in the waiting room of a service there to support them, and the service has no real way of avoiding those situations. The University must take on board student concerns over this lack of clarity.”
The letter requests the improvement of services provided for the University and greater clarity as to what the role of such a service is. The letter states its focus as “the very real and worrying impact on students who feel misinformed and upset”, and welcomes constructive conversation with the University to ensure the best possible service is being provided to students.
You can find the letter in full and a form to sign it here: https://docs.google.com/forms/d/e/1FAIpQLSetWEvXubAWfFCDQrMpLptRMSGMsu6hQz97OVlBc5lqU-sugA/viewform
A template for JCR motions can be found here: https://docs.google.com/document/d/1Kmdn35YgY8YLKXYR46x5DeLbpsNyldjT_NE6xqsjSno/edit?fbclid=IwAR3iQu5MddR8DswpeyxNMarUhIHbTH2jxzItZNdRthmr1sH1nXtgDNdtUxE