Rape threats, assaults and abuse: the sexist world of student debating

A horrifying insight into the student debating culture riddled with misogyny…


A Cambridge debating star who was the victim of sexist heckling has unearthed a shocking catalogue of misogyny on the student speaking circuit.

Rebecca Meredith, rated in the world’s top 20 debaters, was the victim of vile abuse in March as Glasgow students yelled at her and other women during a competition.

Now, in a shocking 38 page report, Meredith exposes the ‘upsetting and shocking’ experiences of female debaters and breaks the ‘unacceptable’ silence due to the lack of a reporting system.

Meredith hopes the report will help to stop misogyny in the debating circuit...

Meredith hopes the report will help to stop misogyny in the debating circuit…

The report tells how female debaters were:

• Sexually assaulted by peers and staff – in one case while they were sleeping.

• Threatened with rape because of their choice of clothing.

• Egged on by the Chair of the debate to kiss each other.

The dossier – discussed at an all-female competition in Oxford this summer – suggests there is a widespread culture of bullying and sexism at university debating competitions.

In one account, a woman recalls how she was groped by a male debater when the team fell asleep in the same room after a party. She then found out that the man had touched up three out of the five women present.

At another party, one woman told how a man “put his hand up my skirt and pinched my thigh”. The offender was promptly asked to leave, but the victim was urged to keep quiet about the incident.

One respondent said: “Last year, about six months into debating, I was very involved and we were hosting a high profile guest. This attracted a lot of faculty members to the audince, while having drinks after the event I was sexually harrased by a member of faculty.

“I had my hair pulled by him, he tried to look up my skirt, asked me lots of questions about lesbian sex knowing I was gay and made me feel awful.

“I was appalled and upset, but when I went to the Auditor of the union, I was told to keep quiet, and not to make a fuss. The rest of committee agreed with him.”

Meredith was herself the victim of sexual heckling at a competition in Glasgow...

Meredith was herself the victim of sexual heckling at a competition in Glasgow…

During debates, women’s points were dismissed as “bitter because they’re a slut.”

A chair judge at a debate at 2012 told two women “that if they made out, they’d get the win.”

Meredith hopes that the report will help in “removing misogyny from the debating circuit.”

“The number of respondents to this survey suggests that it is not a problem isolated to a few rogue cases, but rather a more subtle and pervasive issue.

“Some of the experiences which have been detailed in this report are upsetting and shocking; while the silence around them … is unacceptable.”