It was Samantha Kilford’s first week at university and she was excited to be there. Then her whole world came crashing down.
The 23-year-old from Neath alleges that she was sexually assaulted by a fellow student in August, 2019. She said she reported the alleged incident to police, but claims she didn’t hear anything for two weeks. Then, when she was spoken to by an officer, she claims she was asked questions about what she had been wearing at the time. She claims the case was later dropped.
Now, almost two years later, she has discovered her alleged attacker has been allowed to continue with his university studies.
Samantha has now spoken out to criticise her treatment at almost every stage of the process, and her anger at the eventual result. She has also linked up with a campaign to improve the way such cases are dealt with by the authorities.
She said following her experience: ”There’s a lot of women that this is happening to. I can see why women don’t report it.”
Samantha said she and her mum had travelled to Bristol from Neath in 2019 to move her belongings into her new accommodation, ready for her to begin studying English Literature at Bristol University.
The alleged attack took place after she had fallen asleep on a sofa, and she alleges: ”Then I woke up several hours later to him pinning me down on the sofa and his hands were going under my clothing, grabbing intimate areas and he was trying to kiss me. I just froze and obviously didn’t know what to do. I was trying to process what was happening and stayed there pretending to be asleep for a little but then pretended as If I was waking up and then he jumped to the other sofa and I ran out of the room.”
She left Bristol the next day with her mum.
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“We were both in a lot of shock when it happened and we were trying to understand the severity of it because I knew he didn’t rape me but it didn’t feel right so I was trying to process if it defined as being sexual assault,” she said.
She explained that she placed a lot of the blame on herself, and that she became very depressed after it happened and felt really worthless as a person.
Samantha initially reported the incident to both Avon and Somerset Police and South Wales Police (the force covering her home town) and to Bristol University. Her alleged attacker attended a different institution, University of the West of England (UWE), and she reported it to the authorities there also.
“The police took a couple of weeks to speak to him and asked me what I was wearing and questioned why I would fall asleep on the sofa and told me that it was irresponsible. They closed the case basically,” she claimed.
Samantha said her university gave her a trained expert to support her, but she said they weren’t allowed to be involved in the investigation because the alleged attacker’s university was handling the case.
She said that during the UWE investigation she gave written and in-person statements. She also gave an in-person statement and submitted a written impact statement to a UWE hearing convened to consider the incident. But she claims she was told she may not even find out the outcome of the case.
She claimed: ”I was told by his university that these investigation procedures are quite inconsistent and it always depends who the staff member leading it is, which I don’t think is right. Throughout the process I was told that the university was going to share as much information as they could with me but typically they don’t let people know the outcome of cases like these.
“Having to have an investigation hanging over you for a year whilst you’re trying to study was tough. Trying to recount what happened to me a million times in the process left me more traumatized than what actually happened.”
Samantha said she felt like the other university was siding with its student and as if she had done something wrong.
She claimed: “It made me feel like they’d chosen a side right from the get go. It wasn’t a fair investigation at all. I was made to feel that I was the one who had done something wrong. Throughout the investigation process he was entitled to know everything that I was saying so he had access to statements and conversations that they’d had with me but I wasn’t allowed to know anything about what he was saying.
“When it came to the hearing at the end of the investigation, he was allowed to submit questions that the panel could use to ask me but I wasn’t allowed to submit any questions to ask him.”
Samantha said she only got the case outcome two weeks ago and said she had been told that the student had received a warning and been ordered to attend ‘consent classes’.
She has now joined other students across the country, campaigning for better sexual assault prevention and survivor support in British higher education institutions, called The Student Survivors Coalition for Safeguarding Policies. It has written an open letter and adjoining petition, criticising the lack of safeguarding that it claims allows self-serving institutions to prioritise reputation over safety, and providing recommendations to address these issues in schools.
Sydney Feder, founder of SSCSP, speaking about universities in general, said: ”The way the higher education system is set up is allowing incompetent individuals to re-traumatize survivors rather than support them, with no accountability, accessibility, or justice. We must end this system that allows selfish, sexist staff members to ignore reports, run biased investigations, and protect themselves and their predators over survivors.
“The government must step in and take away the power that has long been abused and put it into the hands of survivors like Samantha.
“By sharing her powerful experience to demand change, she supports those survivors who must be silent. But students, especially survivors, should not have to take time and energy away from their emotional healing and education to advocate for their concerns and safety to be valued.”
If another incident like this happened again Samantha said she wouldn’t go through the reporting process because it had taken two years to get a result on the case. She added: “It felt like I was screaming at a brick wall: ‘Can someone please just help me’.”
A statement from the University of the West of England said: ‘‘UWE Bristol takes a zero-tolerance approach to sexual harassment and misconduct. Behaviour of this nature is completely unacceptable, has no place on any of our campuses, and is tackled robustly by the university when reported.
“We are sorry to hear that on this occasion, the student concerned was unsatisfied with the way her case was handled. While we have taken great care to create a fair and thorough reporting system for people who experience assault or harassment we are always looking for ways to improve our procedure and support services. We are currently in discussion with the reporting student concerned about her experience and her recommendations on how we can further improve our practice and our protocol on case outcomes.
“It is important that any investigation that takes place is fair and thorough which does take time. It is regrettable that this investigation took longer than expected; this was due to the particular complexities of the case and circumstances beyond the university’s control.
“We understand that the process can be distressing for all those involved so we keep everyone updated as much as possible, and ensure students and staff involved have wellbeing support available to them. In this particular case, the university checked to ensure the reporting student was connected to support services both at their university and externally. We also undertake risk assessments at the start of every investigation to determine if additional measures are needed to protect the students involved.
“If a case goes to hearing, we do not allow direct questioning between the alleged perpetrator and the student who has reported the incident. The case against an alleged perpetrator is presented by a trained professional investigator within the university’s student casework team. If the alleged perpetrator has questions for the reporting student, these are considered first by the panel overseeing the hearing, and if appropriate they are posed by the panel chair.
“We also do everything we can to support the student reporting the incident if they choose to attend the hearing, such as ensuring they have someone with them, and keeping them separate from the accused.
“Once the panel has made their decision, impact statements are shared to help them determine appropriate sanctions. In this particular case, we understand the frustration of the student concerned that they were not informed of the sanctions that were imposed on the alleged perpetrator but this was due to data protection laws which prevent the university from sharing all of the details of the final outcome with reporting students. Since this hearing we have developed our protocols for sharing outcomes, balancing our data protection obligations with the interests of the reporting student, to ensure we share appropriate information about the outcome while keeping the information secure.
“The safety and wellbeing of our university community is our main priority, and we take all allegations of assault seriously. We encourage people to report unacceptable behaviour to the university via our Report and Support service where they can choose to speak to one of our trained advisers or report issues anonymously.”
A spokesperson for Bristol University said it did not wish to comment directly on Samantha’s case and how her complaint was handled by UWE.
But it did say it had information available online to signpost students to the support available, which can be accessed here.
“Any student who shares their details will be contacted by one of our trained Sexual Violence Liaison Officers initially who will be able to provide information about reporting options and accessing appropriate specialist support,” said a statement.
“We have done significant work over the last two years to enhance the support and advice available to students who have experienced sexual assault. This includes:
• Introducing new Discipline Regulations and a revised process for the investigation of these types of cases
• Introducing a team of specialist and externally trained Sexual Violence Liaison Officers
• Introducing the new role of Student Liaison Officers
• Introducing Report and Support, the online reporting tool
• Awareness raising with students, in partnership with the Students’ Union, about this issue and how to access support.
“This remains one of our key priorities of work moving forward.”
WalesOnline has approached both South Wales Police and Avon and Somerset Police for comment.