St Andrews University has rejected claims that reports of rape and sexual assault were poorly handled after a scathing documentary.
In the most recent episode of the BBC’s docuseries Disclosure, two St Andrews students told their stories of reporting sexual assault at the university.
They claimed the 600-year-old university “made mistakes” and asked questions which appeared to be “victim blaming”.
The documentary also aired claims that the handling of complaints had led to a “lack of confidence” in the reporting system.
One student, who goes by Megan in the documentary, says she reported being raped to the university but chose not to go through with her complaint after speaking to a member of staff.
She said: “She [the worker who took her report] basically was asking me questions that felt a little accusatory or victim blaming.
“She asked how much alcohol I had last night and just when I stated what had happened I felt that her response was pretty hopeless sounding.
“The woman that I was working with is not to blame, it’s just a very bureaucratic system.”
Another woman, who spoke to the BBC under the name Hayley, added: “They [the university] didn’t write it up completely accurately and they called it my statement even though I never even knew that something had been written up.
“Ultimately that statement did not describe rape and it made me very distrustful right away because they misconstrued my words and called it my words.”
But St Andrews University insist there is “documentary proof” the claims are “without foundation”.
A spokeswoman said policies and procedures were followed “to the letter”.
This is not the first time allegations of rape have been made at the university.
Last year the creation of the St Andrews Survivors group saw more than 100 people highlight their own experiences of sexual assault.
Police worked with the university following the online allegations but none were officially reported to officers.
In October, three students were removed from the university and a further 20 were disciplined.
University rejects ‘poor handling’ allegations
In a statement made on Tuesday, a spokeswoman for St Andrews University said: “We categorically refute the allegations of ‘poor handling’ made by the BBC and have documentary proof that they are without foundation.
“We also know the BBC dismissed the testimony of a rape survivor who wished to talk positively about university support, and ignored others who expressed a similar view.
“We’re concerned that selective, inaccurate reporting of this issue risks dissuading people from seeking help.
“It’s very important to stress that our clear factual rebuttal of the BBC claims doesn’t mean we don’t believe the two students they interviewed.
“It’s imperative that we try to better understand and respond to the experience of survivors.
“Our students work side-by-side with us to shape our policies and procedures on sexual misconduct; in the two cases cited by the BBC they were followed to the letter and to highest standards of professionalism by our staff – yet it’s clear those students still felt let down at some level, and believe a different narrative.
“We will continue to work with our students to understand what may be missing in the application of policy and safeguards, and to create an environment in which all survivors trust and believe that we care deeply.”
‘Leading the sector’
The spokeswoman also highlighted the progress made to prevent sexual assault on campus.
“St Andrews and its students are leading the sector in these areas,” she said.
“We were the first university in Scotland to introduce a compulsory consent module for all students, we were an early adopter of the Scottish Government’s Equally Safe Toolkit, we successfully applied to be one of four Scottish institutions working with the charity EmilyTest on a Gender-Based Violence Charter, our front-line staff are expertly trained by Rape Crisis Scotland, and we have introduced a ground-breaking reporting tool – Report and Support – co-designed with our students.”
A BBC Scotland spokesman denied any suggestion of a lack of balance.
He added: “Disclosure’s coverage of the issues raised was fair and accurate and the programme included a detailed response from the university to the allegations made by students.
“The programme makers were careful to ensure balance and included testimony from a St Andrews student, a victim of sexual assault, who said she had a positive experience with her complaints process. ”