*Content warning: this article details a real case of sexual violence

For the purposes of the victim’s privacy, this article uses a pseudonym. 

In April 2021, Grace, a first year UCL student at halls, was raped twice by another resident. This is the story of her ordeal and the university’s categorical failure to provide her with adequate support.

“I was at Halls and I met this guy once through some friends of mine. We were just hanging out in my friend’s room but the whole vibe there was strange. He wanted to give them some privacy so we went to his room but I had made it very clear, ‘I don’t want to have sex with you, I don’t want to kiss you.’ There just wasn’t the attraction. Just from my part, it wasn’t there.”

Despite clearly refusing sex, Grace’s attacker physically forced himself on her.

“At first I didn’t realize that I was raped. But I went back to my room and I started crying, crying for hours, and I was like, ‘something is wrong’. But I didn’t know what, so I talked to my friends about it. And they were like ‘oh yeah, it’s just because sex, for girls, it’s a big thing. And it’s normal to have these emotions.’ But it wasn’t really normal that I couldn’t stop crying. I felt disgusting.”

Her attacker continued to send her inappropriate messages suggesting that “we can have more fun if you want to.” Grace felt she needed to make it clear to him again that she was not interested.

“I remember me and my friends were having dinner in the main building. I felt uncomfortable and I knew he wanted more from me even though I had made it clear to him that I didn’t want to have sex whatsoever, I just, I was just confused. I just didn’t realise what was going on. So then I asked my friends, ‘should I go to his room to talk about this and tell him that I really don’t want you to touch me or should I do it in public?’ My friends were like, ‘go to his room. There’s nothing wrong with it.’”

“Again, I didn’t realise, I didn’t realise, I felt disgusting – but I didn’t realize it was rape, it felt like it was normal for men to force you to do things you don’t want to do because I was just like, oh, I owe it to him, I owe it to men, I must have wanted it.”

“So then, the second time I went to his room to tell him, I don’t think I feel really comfortable about the whole situation, and I don’t want you to touch me, blah blah blah. And then it happened again. And that was when I realised it’s not okay because when it ended, when he was content, basically I went back to my friend’s room, but it was a whole thing. My friends basically didn’t believe me.”

Luckily, one of her friends did believe her. She too had been a victim of sexual assault when she was younger.

“She told me we should go to the hospital because, I don’t want to go into too much detail, but my state, it wasn’t right. It just wasn’t. There was loads of physical stuff – bruises, blood everywhere. So she told me, ‘go to the hospital right now.’  So then I went to the hospital – the bleeding was just very bad – and the nurse told me: ‘you do realize you’ve been raped twice.’ So that’s when I realized – well, I had realized, but, hearing that from someone else, then you’re like ‘fuck, it actually– it actually happened twice.’”

Grace called her mother, who lives abroad, to tell her what had happened. The next day, Grace’s mother and brother flew to London to see her. Despite Grace’s protests, worried she would ruin her assaulter’s life and that she shared part of the blame, her mother insisted that she should report the rape to the police. This proved emotionally gruelling, as she had to sit for fifteen hours recounting, in as much detail as possible, what had happened. The police then provided her with a restraining order against her attacker, but their investigation into the incident still remains incomplete a year later.

After going to the police, Grace decided to contact her personal tutor so that UCL could take action against her rapist. However, she was informed that, even though she had a restraining order against him, they could not act against her rapist until the police concluded their investigation. Grace was told not to file a complaint on Report + Support as it would be useless while the police investigate.

Grace deplored this failure by UCL to punish her abuser, saying “I have proof that he did it to me and other girls as well, but they just don’t care. I think it’s ridiculous that right now I can’t report him to UCL because the police are already doing something. Everyone knows how fucked up the police here are, like they aren’t really doing anything. This is one of the reasons why so many girls don’t go to them, because everyone kind of discourages going to the police. And so does UCL by having these sorts of policies.”

In fact, UCL does have a policy regarding criminal investigations. Their disciplinary code states that “where criminal investigations and/or judicial proceedings are ongoing… the University will usually continue its own investigation and any disciplinary action.” However, they also state that “where a disciplinary offence is also subject to a criminal investigation, UCL may suspend the disciplinary process until the criminal investigation and legal proceedings have been concluded.” It appears therefore that UCL is not obliged to wait for the police to conclude their investigation in order to act, but instead chose to pursue the latter route of waiting for criminal proceedings to conclude. In the meantime, Grace’s rapist is free to go about his life as normal at UCL.

Despite UCL not taking disciplinary measures, Grace’s personal tutor informed her that they could offer various support tools. She booked an appointment through AskUCL with Student Support and Wellbeing Services who provided her with extensions on her assignments. They also referred her to UCL’s Security and Crime Prevention team; Grace soon received a call reaffirming what her personal tutor told her about Report + Support. Although Grace begged the security advisor to do something, she said that legally they were unable to take action against the student until the police were finished.

However, the Security Team offered other tools to support Grace. First, they said they could monitor Grace’s UCL ID card and her rapist’s, and then notify Grace if they were close to each other on campus so that she could take necessary measures to avoid him. While the offer was welcome, Grace also felt the onus had been put on her, not her rapist, to respect the restraining order on campus. UCL also offered to provide Grace with a tool to protect herself if she returned to campus: a device that, when she pressed the button, would alert a nearby security guard to her whereabouts, who would come find her in case of an emergency. Finally, they said they could provide three security guards to help protect her when she moved out of accommodation. Yet, after this call with the Security and Crime Prevention team, they did not follow up, despite indicating that they would, and none of their offers materialised. Grace, preoccupied with her trauma and emotionally exhausted, did not follow up either.

After her disappointing experience with the Crime Prevention team, Grace was referred to the UCL Rape Crisis Adviser by her tutor: “She called me and said ‘this is a safe space to talk about whatever is on your mind’. So then I did, but – I wish I was kidding – the woman wasn’t speaking. I told her what happened, and then there were 15 minutes of silence. So I was sat there thinking, ‘do I need to say anything, do you want me to?’ and then after 15 minutes, she was like, ‘oh, that sounds really exhausting.’ And I told her, ‘yeah, it is’. Again, for five minutes or ten minutes – silence. And then she was like, ‘oh, your time is over. Contact Support and Wellbeing Services if you need more help.’”

According to UCL, the Rape Crisis Adviser appointment is not “a counselling session, but an opportunity to talk about the impact that the incident has had on you. You can talk about your options and the process of reporting to the police with the adviser if you wish to do so.” Grace, expecting support, said the silence “made me feel ashamed because I was just talking about how this guy ruined me and the woman just didn’t seem to care.”

Let down by the Rape Crisis Adviser, Grace heeded her advice to contact Support and Wellbeing Services again. Listed as a priority, she avoided the often lengthy waiting time and received an appointment in just two days. The session was productive and helpful, but unfortunately it was a one-off. The next call she received from Support and Wellbeing was two weeks later, providing a SoRA that would grant Grace extra time on assignments. However, Grace was not offered psychological support services.

Disappointed now by a third UCL support service, Grace went back to her personal tutor for help. Her tutor told her about another service that exists: Care First. It is an independent service, paid for by UCL, that offers counselling services to students and, on the weekends, operates 24 hours a day.

One night, Grace needed help and called the hotline. However, she was met with an aggressive response of “What do you want?” Grace described hoping to meet a warm, caring person on the other end of the phone, as she had felt isolated by her discomfort speaking to friends and family about what had happened. Yet, the woman she spoke to was cold and told her to call a sexual assault hotline instead.

After that, Grace gave up on seeking help through UCL.

She considered dropping out, saying that “right after it happened, I felt like, I don’t know if I want to be at UCL anymore because my rapist was there and I told them that. I was going to drop out and I still struggle a lot with the fact that I’m at the same university as him. But, you learn to live with it I guess. It’s less tough than it was a year ago.”

Despite staying, Grace minces no words in criticising UCL, saying that “they just don’t care. The only thing they care about is academia.”

Indeed, the only support that materialised was a SoRA, despite the procedures UCL has in place (refer to page 1 for in-depth coverage).

UCL’s ineffective response has made her regret telling anyone: “I just wish I didn’t [report it] because I’ve already been through so much. I know I probably just would have been better off processing it by myself instead of having the police who don’t do anything and only make the situation worse.”

Despite speaking out against her aggressor, she has yet to experience any form of justice. Instead, his life goes on as usual: “He still gets to go out, do his degree, go to the UCL bars and he’s dangerous. He almost killed me. It feels like he would have had to murder me for UCL to actually kick him out.”

Even one case is inexcusable, but it is unlikely that Grace is the only one to be let down by UCL’s inadequate response to rape. The university failed to act against a rapist on its campus, and did not even provide the basic tools it had promised to protect Grace from future assaults. There are serious cracks in the system, and UCL must act to stop more people from falling through them.

In response to this article, Professor Sasha Roseneil, UCL Pro-Provost (Equity and Inclusion), said: “We are profoundly troubled to learn of Grace’s experience and we are urgently looking into what went wrong for her. We offer multiple ways for reporting bullying, harassment, and sexual misconduct to allow those who have experienced harm to choose the reporting route that feels safest and most appropriate for them. 

“We encourage students who feel they have experienced or witnessed bullying, harassment, or sexual misconduct by another student to make a formal report to the Student Casework Team by contacting them on casework@ucl.ac.uk. This process may also be initiated through Report + Support. Where behaviour has been found to breach UCL’s policies, disciplinary action may be taken through our own processes, and this may happen while criminal investigations are ongoing. We are concerned to read that Grace was advised not to do this and we are making sure that personal tutors and student advisers give the correct advice and information.

“Our Student Support and Wellbeing Services provide a safe, confidential, and non-judgemental space, in which our students can discuss any issues that may be affecting their ability to study. Students who have experienced harassment, violence, or abuse are guided how to access a wide range of support should they need it, including support via a referral to specialist external organisations. The Adviser will talk through UCL’s procedures and inform how to make a complaint through our Student Disciplinary Procedure. They can also speak with tutors without any requirement to disclose confidential information to help the student with requests for extensions or changes to their studies. We encourage anyone struggling with their mental health and wellbeing to contact them to speak to an adviser.”

 

By Alfie Pannell

This article appeared in CG Issue 82