“I’m going to rape and murder you”- Abuse in Cambridge

One Cambridge student has suffered through a year of bizarre abuse, and he’s not staying silent any longer.

abuse Cambridge Chris Page College finger mousetrap online bully pigeon hole postgrad Queens' Stand Up voice of cambridge

The theme of my year has been harassment and bullying.

I write this for two reasons. Firstly, because I don’t think I should suffer this bullshit in silence. Secondly, I suspect I’m not the only person at university to have suffered harassment and bullying, so to those of you who have been in this position: you aren’t alone. And we need to start talking about it.

The problem began before the start of the academic year. I was about to begin at a new college which was a relief as I’d never really felt entirely comfortable in my old one. Before I matriculated, I noticed I had already been allocated a pigeon hole, and I was mildly excited to see that it was already full.

Its contents were a series of notes: one of which had written all in capitals was: “GET THE FUCK OUT OF MY COLLEGE. YOU ARE NOT WELCOME HERE.”

Normally the worst you expect to find is an out of date voucher

At the time, I was upset, but didn’t report the notes. In hindsight, I probably should have done so.

The abuse kicked into overdrive in Lent. It began after I wrote something long-winded but broadly inoffensive about the Cambridge SU elections. This provoked an online shit-storm. Within a few days of my post, I had received around 20 threats of violence and death, via email or blog comments.

Whilst the issue of the SU elections was fairly polarising, I really can’t see how someone cares so much about my opinions on it that they would wish death upon me. That said, the internet is, among other things, a forum for people to be as nasty as possible in a scatter gun approach. I tried my best to get on with things.

Following this, I received some of these messages, often on a daily basis. After disabling comments on the blog, most of these came to my personal email account.  I’ve published a handful of them on a Google doc here – *PLEASE NOTE THAT THEY ARE GRAPHICALLY VIOLENT IN TERMS OF PHYSICAL AND SEXUAL ASSAULT*

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“Go Kill Yourself”

By this point in the year, I was starting to feel scared and threatened. However, matters came to a head very recently.

A couple of weeks ago, I went into college and decided to check my post as I hadn’t done so for a good few weeks. I wasn’t surprised  when I saw my pidge was full of leaflets. It was all piled at the back of my pidge, so I reached in to pull it all out in one go.

And then I felt something, right at the back of my pigeon hole, snap shut on my index finger. I yanked my hand out, bashing it hard against the roof of my pidge, my finger feeling like it was about to explode with pain.

Right at the back of my pigeon hole, hidden under all of the leaflets, was a mousetrap.

Someone had put it into my pigeon hole, set it, and covered it with leaflets. Luckily for me, I managed to yank my hand away, but the result is ligament damage, rather than anything worse.

Not long after this, I received the latest anonymous email:

“We sent you a little gift – hope you got it! See if you can point the FINGER of blame now. Lots of love sweetie!!!!! Voice of Cambridge (and my many many many you hating friends.)”

Let’s take a step back: all of these messages have been sent from fake email accounts, the kind that one can easily create and which “self destruct” after a short period of time.

Most, if not all, use the screen name “Voice of Cambridge,” but the tone of these messages vary – many of them are graphically sexually violent, others seem mocking and theatrical. And then the mousetrap in my pigeon hole is so oddly violent it’s hard to know where to begin.

Why would anyone do this?

Why would anyone do this?

The scariest thing is that I have no idea who this is. I thought that the messages were coming from an internet troll who had chosen me as a random target.

Everyday I run through potential perpetrators in my head – all the people I’ve ever had a disagreement with, or upset, but no-one comes to mind who was so upset, and so angry, that they would want to harass me, and then try to physically assault me.

This anonymity means there is very little I can do. If the perpetrator(s) were another member of the University, I could begin harassment procedures against them. But this person, or persons, is doing a damn good job of hiding their tracks. All of the emails are, apparently, untraceable. I blocked each address, only for a new one to be created. Short of changing both my Hermes address, and my Gmail, I can’t think of anything I can do.

You might think that I’m sounding remarkably calm given all that has happened. I have to be – if I let these random acts of cruelty and abuse get to me, I suspect I’d have a breakdown. The main reason I am writing this is because I want to try and reach out to anyone else who has experienced this kind of online and offline harassment.

It can’t just be me. I think that the most powerful thing that people can do in this situation is to let the world know what they are going through.

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Speaking out is sometimes the only option

Bullying works best when the victim stays silent, and the bully can take this as a sign that they can continue with impunity. Harassment and bullying take so many forms, and are the kind of behaviour which we should have abandoned as mature adults; the reality is that it does affect a great deal of people, and it is only by talking about it that we can make a change.

Certainly, there is a role for the colleges and University to play in allowing for students who have been victims of bullying to get closure; existing policies are far from ideal, but it is only through student pressure that we can work towards a better system.

But even if you don’t choose to go down a formal route (and, given how traumatic this can be, I can totally understand why you might not) but it doesn’t mean you can’t speak out. Bullies, like the individual harassing me, are cowards, unable to show their faces, and resorting to underhand intimidation. There are plenty of ways for victims to speak out, including anonymously, be it in the student press, or via the Cambridge Speaks Its Mind Campaign.

The important thing is that we do speak, and we do stand up to abusers. Perhaps I’ll never know who is responsible for this harassment, but I take some comfort from the fact that I won’t be staying quiet about it, and, perhaps, they’ll be caught.

So to anyone else who’s experienced this – I am so so sorry. And you are not alone.