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Oxford Students Respond to Feminist Activist's Admission of Non-Consensual Sex

University activist Annie Teriba campaigned against rape culture. Now she's leaving student politics after admitting that she "failed to properly establish consent" before sex.
October 14, 2015, 6:55pm
Annie Teriba speaking at the Oxford Union. Screenshot via YouTube user OxfordUnion

A leading student activist from Oxford University has resigned from all her political posts and campaigns after admitting that she did not establish consent before having sex at a conference earlier this year.

Third-year student Annie Teriba was the officer for people of color and racial equality at Wadham College Student Union, the editor of a student magazine for queer and trans voices called No HeterOx**, and a committee member of both the National Campaign Against Fees and Cuts (NCAFC) and the National Union of Students (NUS) Black Students' campaign.

According to the university newspaper Cherwell, Teriba announced her resignation from these positions in a statement on her Facebook profile, which has since been deleted. She said:

At this year's NUS Black Students' Conference, I had sex with someone. The other party later informed me that the sex was not consensual. I failed to properly establish consent before every act. I apologize sincerely and profoundly for my actions. I should have taken sufficient steps to ensure that everything I did was consensual. I should have been more attentive to the person's body language. In failing to clarify that the person consented to our entire encounter, I have caused serious irreparable harm.

Teriba also added that the incident was not "isolated," saying that she had also "touched somebody in a sexual manner without their consent" in a club while drunk during her first year of university. She stated that she would seek help for her alcohol consumption, adding: "It is clear that I lack self-awareness and become sexually entitled when I am drunk. This does not excuse my actions, I am wholly responsible for the damage that I have caused."

Read More: Telling My Campus Rape Stories

Teriba was well-known in student activism circles and had spoken publicly about the need to tackle rape culture at Oxford, even writing a think piece on the issue for a university feminist blog called Bad Housekeeping. She wrote: "We are at a turning point. Unless something gives, we run the risk of reaching a point at which society can never solve the issue of sexual violence."

Oxford University. Photo by Rebecca Thompson via Stocksy

Oxford students have slammed Teriba's statement, saying that it was "rife with [rape] apologism." The Women's Campaign, an autonomous political group that operates a society at Oxford, said that Teriba was trying to dodge responsibility for her actions.

"Rape apologism manifests in infinite forms: we define it as any discourse that refers to sexual assault as anything other than what it is—unacceptable and appalling abuse," the group said on its Facebook page. "The statement recently shared [by Teriba] is, unfortunately, rife with apologism and we do not condone it nor the violence it describes."

Wadham Student Union president Taisie Tsikas told Broadly that Annie did not inform the union before resigning from her post. "Although it did not prove necessary to convene a panel to force her resignation, had she failed to formally resign promptly, we would have gone ahead with such a procedure," Tsikas said. "Wadham SU would never allow a known perpetrator of sexual violence to hold power on the committee."

"While on Wadham SU, Annie had many other responsibilities and did comparatively little in her role as the people of color and racial equality officer," Tsikas continued. "We will be holding elections for several positions in the coming week, and the role will be included among these. We very much hope that the position will be filled, as racial discrimination is still a live issue in Oxford University."

We do this especially if one of our own commits the action, because it is important that we hold each other as accountable as we would anyone else.

In a statement released on Twitter, the Wadham Student Union said that it "would like to offer solidarity to all survivors of sexual violence, and will endeavour to ensure that Wadham continues to be as safe and respectful a community as possible."

Rhodes Must Fall, a decolonialist student campaign that lobbied against institutional racism at Oxford, also spoke out against Teriba, a former member. "On Friday 9th October, it came to our attention that one of our organizing members, Annie, has violated sexual consent multiple times," it said in a statement. "We, as Rhodes Must Fall in Oxford, condemn unconditionally the violation of anyone's sexual consent. We do this especially if one of our own commits the action, because it is important that we hold each other as accountable as we would anyone else."

The National Union of Students said that they had not received a complaint relating to the incident described by Teriba at the Black Students' conference. "We didn't have a complaint raised about it, and we have yet to have a complaint raised about it," a spokesperson told Broadly. "Obviously if one was to be raised, we would take it very seriously." Teriba did not respond to requests for comment.

Campus sexual assault has become a pressing issue on both sides of the Atlantic. One study from the Association of American Universities surveyed over 150,000 students and found that 23.1 percent of female participants had reported "sexual contact involving physical force or incapacitation since enrolling in the college."

A similar study in 2010 by NUS found that one in seven female university students in the UK had been a victim of serious sexual assault or violence. while another study in 2014 stated that one in four students had been the target of unwelcome sexual advances, which included acts such as verbal harassment and groping. Nevertheless, an audit of 35 higher education institutions and student unions in the UK showed that only 51 percent had a formal policy on sexual harassment.

At Oxford, the issue has dominated student headlines since the president of the prestigious Oxford Union debating society, a third-year student named Benjamin Sullivan, was arrested on suspicion of rape and attempted rape in 2014. He was later released without charge, but in February 2015 prosecutors agreed to the victim's request to review the case again. In August 2014, another Oxford student wrote a viral Medium article accusing university staff of "largely ignoring" her when she sought help after her rape.

Rape apologism is one of the most potent weapons in the continuation of rape culture and should be condemned.

In September 2014, it was announced that some Oxford colleges would make it compulsory for first-year students to attend sexual consent classes. But what makes Teriba's admission even more dismaying for her peers is the fact that she was actively involved in feminist causes and right-on student politics. Sexual violence on campus, in other words, isn't solely the purview of drunk college bros.

Rose Lyddon, the women's officer of Teriba's former student union, told Broadly that it was "shocking" that an activist could have been involved in an alleged sexual assault. She also criticized Teriba's statement as "unacceptable rape apologism."

"Framing the assault as a misunderstanding which was later realised to be sexual violence represents an attempt to underplay the severity of the event, as does her avoidance of the words 'sexual violence,' 'rape,' or 'sexual assault,'" Lyddon said. "Rape apologism is one of the most potent weapons in the continuation of rape culture and should be condemned.

"Annie's status within student politics and wider political arenas has made this event particularly shocking. The ability of abusive individuals to hold sway in activist organizations at the highest ranks demands that we look closely at the way we organize in future."