TW - Rape, the Warwick group chat
“It is more likely for a girl at Warwick to be affected by sexual violence, than to not be. Please take a moment to digest that. Every girl I know at Warwick has a story, either that has happened to them, or has happened to a friend, or both. Girls are not the only ones suffering, boys are too, and they are statistically less likely to speak up about it, which is an additional problem. Sexual violence has become far too commonplace, and action desperately needs to be taken.”
Those are the words of a rape survivor. In November 2020, they wrote an open letter to Warwick’s vice-chancellor Stuart Croft. In it, they both articulate their own experience of being raped by a flatmate and the experiences of other Warwick students who suffer in silence.
Their letter is beautifully written and heartbreaking. It is also completely unsurprising. As a former Warwick student, I am all too familiar with that university’s rape culture. I experienced it myself. I was groped on a night out and made to feel like it was my fault. I watched my classmates deal with the aftermath of Warwick’s infamous, abusive group chat with little support from the university. I watched the BBC documentary, I watched the Ted Talk. I spent one horrible evening in final year hearing that a Warwick student I knew had allegedly raped someone.
What I do not remember seeing is any concrete change from the university, at any point. In fact, students have led the way. Following the publication of the open letter, there was more outrage. Another protest. Another petition, reaching an incredible 50,000 signatures and still growing. Another empty PR statement. And what now?
On paper, Warwick appears to do more to tackle sexual misconduct than most universities. It has an ISVA (Independent Sexual Violence Advisor), a Report and Support tool and a sexual misconduct policy. So far, we have researched around 40 unis and only 9 have such policies. Report and Support tools are more common, but few unis employ ISVAs or similar. Policies and practises vary widely across the sector.
Rape culture, is, of course, a societal issue. It is not exclusive to Warwick.
However, Warwick is one of the only universities to have received extensive media coverage on the topic. It may well be that its students are the ones getting caught out, or that other unis are better at hiding the issue. That said, myself and many other Warwick students and alumni know all too well that the campus is not the safe space it should be. Indeed, the writer of the open letter mentions that their rapist had previously denounced the group chat. So what’s going wrong?
I wish I knew the answer.
Whilst I admire the efforts of Warwick students like Laila Ahmed (creator of the latest petition) in dealing with Warwick’s sexual violence, it is also painful to watch. Just in the last few weeks, news broke that Warwick allowed another perpetrator of sexual violence to remain on campus. Moreover, Georgina Calvert-Lee, lawyer for the girls discussed in the group chat, has strongly condemned the university’s consistent inability to protect its students. It is horribly reminiscent of what happened after the group chat in 2018 and I can’t help but worry that once again everything will get swept under the carpet.
I would love to know how Stuart Croft aims to improve the situation. Will he take the issue seriously after people stop watching? Or will he think that we’re all just being very silly?
Either way, shame on you Warwick.