What to do if you are raped

Rape as an issue is often discussed, but what isn’t, is what to do if it happens to you.

anonymous Cambridge Oxford police rape sexual assault

146 Cambridge students have been seriously sexually assaulted.

That’s more than an entire year’s worth of undergraduates at most Cambridge colleges. It’s a huge number – over 2% of all female undergraduates. And this aspect barely gets mentioned.

Serious sexual assault is an attempt to penetrate someone without their consent orally, vaginally or anally with genitalia, fingers or an object. In most of the actual circumstances that it occurs in, it’s rape (oral, vaginal or anal penetration with genitalia). And it happens right here, at Cambridge, more than most of us could imagine.

It’s clear that there are many incidents where it is not obvious what happened, whether consent was given, and what role intoxication had to play. These are not the focus of this article – rather, this piece is about the incidents where, quite obviously, someone has been seriously sexually assaulted. These are thankfully rare but far from non-existent.

You might be wondering why this is being published anonymously – I can tell you now that I am a male, second-year undergraduate here at Cambridge, and I am fortunate enough to never have been sexually assaulted.

But my sister has. She’s a fellow Oxbridge student, a year younger than me, and a few months ago she was raped in her room, in her college, by her college husband.

The question that she and others like her then had to answer was this: what do I do?

We’ve spent the last few months working out the answer to that exact question, and as I know that there are at least 146 Cambridge students for whom the following advice could be useful, I think it only appropriate to try and share it:

1) Tell a friend.

Immediately tell a friend, either that very same night or the day after. If you don’t have a friend that you feel you can talk to, tell your family. If you don’t feel you can do that then tell your college welfare rep – this is what they are there for.

This is the step that is the hardest. So many people feel ashamed and disgusted by what has happened because they feel that they are, in some way, to blame. You are not to blame. Victims are not to blame for an act of violence perpetrated on them by someone else. Even if the assault is historic – tell someone. Trying to cope with it on your own only makes it harder.

2) Go to a sexual health clinic the very next day.

Skip lectures, supervisions, labs, whatever – this is more important. Taking a friend for support is often a good idea. The clinic will be able to take swabs to prove that the assault occurred. One of the most damning replies when people are asked whether they reported their assault is the phrase: “No – it would just be my word against theirs”. Having physical evidence that the assault took place means that this will not be the case.

However, even if the rape is historic and so you haven’t had swabs taken, it is highly unlikely that you are your assailant’s only victim – the majority of serious sexual offenders will have offended before, whether serious or not, and will probably be known to their college welfare authorities already. 84% of rape victims know their assailants, with that figure rising further for rapes within college, and so it could be that you are already aware of previous assaults. It could also be, as is often the case, that your assailant’s previous victims have been reluctant to come forward but will now mention their own assault.

3) Tell your college Senior Tutor/Senior Dean/Head of Pastoral Care/etc. exactly what happened.

These people are responsible for your welfare and should have procedures in place to address this sort of eventuality.

In my sister’s case they moved her assailant out of college accommodation and onto a site 20 minutes away while initiating an investigation. This should be the absolute minimum, and should be accomplished by your college as soon as possible.

4) Ask your college’s Head of Pastoral Care/Senior Tutor/etc. to write down a statement from you describing exactly what happened.

This is important should you decide to go to the police, and it means that there is a permanent paper record of the events of that night.

At this point it is now the college’s responsibility to interview you, your assailant, and anybody else that was around that night and might have heard/seen something. If they do not do so then you could be within your rights to sue them for neglect of their due care and responsibility. Should the college be satisfied that the assault did take place then it is within their power to rusticate your assailant for the rest of your time at Cambridge, if not sending them down permanently.

5) Get your college to send your statement to their lawyers.

These should be able to tell you whether to proceed with a prosecution – however, it’s worth saying that if the assault can be defined as serious sexual assault, and you have followed all the steps above (and your college has done its job in collecting evidence and witness statements) then it is likely that they will advise you to proceed and contact the police.

One final point is worth mentioning here: the strongest predictor of future sexual violence is past sexual violence.

In reporting your sexual assault you could be saving a possible future victim, whether that be yourself or someone else.

Serious sexual assault is rarely clear-cut – more often than not intoxication blurs the boundaries between what is consent and what isn’t. But for the times when it is, people need to know what to do.

The University strongly encourages students to report any incidents to the police, and contact the Rape Crisis Centre on 0845 0896262