25 November 2020

Change needed at University of York to protect against sexual violence

Survive issues this statement in response to BBC Look North report on the lack of change at the University of York since it employed a rapist while awaiting sentencing

Survive, a Yorkshire-based charity that supports survivors of sexual violence, calls for a cultural shift at the university following continuing internship of a convicted rapist ahead of his sentencing hearing.

Survive calls into question the actions of academics at the University of York in employing a rapist as he awaited sentencing and questions whether there have been sufficient changes at the institution to prevent the shielding of sexual violence perpetrators in the future.

Chief Executive Officer of Survive, Mags Godderidge expressed dismay and extreme disappointment that the academics allowed the rapist, John McKeown, to continue his internship as a biophysicist while awaiting sentencing for rape and sexual assault. This came to light when credible information was sent to the BBC Look North team, suggesting nothing had changed on campus a year on from the matter “meaning the situation could happen again”.

Mrs Godderidge commented: “We have to ask if lessons have indeed been learned by the university. It is not enough to say policies and procedures are in place and have been updated. There needs to be assurance from the senior leadership team that perpetrators will be not be shielded. They need to lead a cultural shift and demonstrate a zero-tolerance approach to sexual violence by saying to each and every lecturer in each and every department, ‘sexual violence has no place at this university’.

“We are more than a year on from when the academics made the ill-judged decision for McKeown to continue being employed as an intern. This decision will likely have added substantially to the survivor’s burden. It also raises safeguarding concerns for the staff and students who continued to work alongside McKeown in blissful ignorance of his serious crimes.

Mrs Godderidge continued: “By standing by a sexual violence perpetrator, the academics strongly indicated that sexual violence is not a big deal. They not only trivialised his crime but were dismissive of the harm he caused. At Survive, we know that it takes months, years, even decades for survivors of sexual trauma to tell others about what has happened to them. Incidents like this just make it even harder for survivors to come forward. We appeal to all at the university to take the steps that are necessary to protect their students from sexual predators.”

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