Bristol student says she was sexually assaulted on first day of university

  • Watch Richard Payne's full report

A Bristol student who says she was attacked less than 24 hours after arriving in the city is calling for compulsory policies for dealing with sexual assault allegations in higher education.

Samantha Kilford, from Neath in south Wales, says she has only just discovered the result of the investigation into her alleged attacker - two years after it happened.

She told ITV News West Country she felt belittled and traumatised by how her case was handled and would not report the incident if it happened again.

She has now joined other students and campaign groups to highlight an issue they say is far more common than many realise.

"I moved into accommodation and the first night I was at uni, I was sexually assaulted," she said.

"That one night took everything away from me. It shattered the dream I had for going off to Bristol and I guess there's a lot of sadness at losing that."

Samantha is now campaigning to improve how universities deal with sexual assault allegations.

But the 23-year-old, who is studying English literature, says reporting her ordeal to the University of the West of England - where her alleged attacker was a student - began a near two-year fight against a system she felt was stacked against her.

She said: "Because I was the 'third party' I wouldn't get to know much of what was going on at all and I shouldn't get my hopes up. I think his university alienated me a lot in that process."

Samantha says she was shocked to learn she would not be told the full outcome of her complaint, due to data protection rules, a protocol the University of the West of England says it has recently reviewed. 

She says the university revealed her alleged attacker had breached their code of conduct but she says he remains on his course. The university says he was sanctioned but refused to say how.

"It felt very much like they'd chosen a side even if they said they believed me they were effectively protecting him, I feel," said Samantha, who waived her right to anonymity to highlight what she and others say is a significant but vastly under reported issue.

She has joined other students from across the country and campaign groups in demanding Parliament compel all higher education institutions to implement statutory procedures for complaints of sexual assault. 

"Universities do a lot to say we have zero tolerance of this on campus but when it gets to the reporting procedure you see how much business is important to them," she added. 

"I think the current procedures in place are extremely inadequate and I know that if it were to happen again, or if I went back in time, I probably wouldn't report it which is quite heartbreaking to admit.

"You never get closure at the moment from the way the system works. You're just left with more questions and I felt belittled and diminished by his university."

  • The full response from the University of the West of England

Credit: UWE Bristol

"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 chose 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.”