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Student left ‘in limbo’ by UEA for five months after alleged sexual assault

An undergraduate who said she was sexually assaulted after an A-List club night claims she was left “in limbo” for five months before the university investigated her complaint.

Amy Cooper, not her real name, said she was sexually assaulted by a fellow student after a night out at the LCR in September 2018.

She had returned to her boyfriend’s house and had fallen asleep before being woken up to a man touching her. She immediately phoned her housemate, who came to collect her. 

She said the attack left her feeling “used — like I wasn’t really a person”. She added: “I was just an object.”

Amy struggled with her mental health in the months following the alleged assault and told a university lecturer she was “traumatised” in an email sent seven months after the incident.

The university said it was reviewing its processes for when incidents were reported and how it supported students.

But Amy said she was suffering “debilitating anxiety and depression” and “an overwhelming feeling of fear”, which had left her suicidal.

The university’s delayed response to her complaint was “a slap in the face”, she said. 

Although Norfolk police investigated the incident and a man in his 20s was arrested and questioned, he was never charged.

Amy was told that during the police investigation the man said the incident was consensual, however, she said: “I don’t really know how someone can get consent from someone who is sleeping. I honestly feel traumatised and I feel scared walking around campus, thinking about whether he is nearby.”

Amy told UEA the police had concluded their investigation in an email on November 26, 2018, although she was unaware this was supposed to trigger the university’s investigation. The university later said the reason for the five-month delay was that Amy had not informed the university, but emails seen by Concrete show she did.

In a statement, Norfolk police said no further action would be taken. Amy said she understood why as “it’s just one person’s word against another”.

The university paid Amy £1,000 in compensation — a university staff member said this was to save her “the additional inconvenience of having to make a formal complaint”.

Amy told one of her lecturers in an email that the impact on her mental health was “catastrophic” and she had to seek counselling and was prescribed antidepressants. She said she felt “severely let down by the justice system, and will continue to be let down by the university”.

She added it made her “consider dropping out from the fear of having to see the student that assaulted me again.”  

When the university finally did investigate, five months after Amy had notified them the police investigation had concluded, they told her there was “insufficient evidence to establish” whether the incident had happened. She said she was told the man’s school of study instead asked him to write an essay on consent.

A university spokesman said: “The university takes all reports or disclosures of sexual misconduct extremely seriously, and all reports are thoroughly investigated. We are continually reviewing our procedures around disclosures of incidents and how we support students involved in these processes.”

The spokesman said they would not comment on individual cases but added: “UEA has worked with uea(su) for many years on the Never OK campaign to create a culture of zero tolerance towards issues of harassment, and have also recently brought in the Report and Support site to allow anyone to report incidents or to directly request support from an adviser. 

“We’re wholly committed to implementing the recommendations of the Universities UK ‘Changing the Culture’ report, and we are also working with the Office for Students on their consultation on harassment and sexual misconduct in higher education.”

The university would not comment on what specifically they have changed to ensure a similar delay would not occur in the future.

But Amy believes UEA would make the same mistakes again if a similar situation arose.  

“I feel like since all this has happened I just have no trust in anyone who’s meant to look after you. Like the police or the university or just anyone,” she said.

She added UEA likes “to pretend” they look after students. “They put posters up around the uni saying ‘it’s never OK’. But it clearly is okay.”

She said: “What makes it worse is was people coming up and saying, ‘the police didn’t do anything, so obviously he didn’t do anything then’, and, ‘the university didn’t do anything, so obviously nothing happened’.”

She added: “I just don’t want it to happen to anyone else. I think it’s just been such an awful experience that’s been made even worse by people not having proper regulation or procedure.”

Names have been changed.

If you have been affected by a similar incident or know someone who has you can contact STS by calling 01603 592761 or emailing studentsupport@uea.ac.uk. You can also visit https://reportandsupport.uea.ac.uk/.

Alternatively you can contact Samaritans on 116 123 24-hours a day or email jo@samaritans.org

You can also contact The Survivors Trust on 08088 010 818 or visit their website: www.thesurvivorstrust.org


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25/02/2020

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Chris Matthews