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Oxford Union President, accused of rape, refusing to step down, scaring away guests

I've been peripherally aware of this story for a while but I generally skip anything to do with Oxford, it finally found it's way onto the main news this evening and I thought it could do with an airing here.

Those able to view Channel 4 News's video would be well advised to watch their far superior reporting but I'm unsure if those outside the UK will be able to view.


A quick timeline of events is that on the 6th May Ben Sullivan a 21 year old student at Christ Church college and President of the Oxford Union was arrested on suspicion of rape and attempted rape relating to incidents involving different undergraduates in January and April 2013. He was questioned and released on Police Bail to return on June 18th, he has not been charged and it must be noted that he denies the accusations. Initially the President-elect took over his duties as Acting President of the Union, but on May 15th Mr Sullivan resumed his role as President and gave a speech indicating his intention to continue. Under the Oxford Union Society rules an officer is only suspended from office if they are charged with a criminal offence, not merely arrested and bailed, so he is technically within his rights.

For those unaware the Oxford Union is a moderately prestigious debating society, the second oldest university Union (after Cambridge), closely linked with but legally and financially separate from Oxford University. It regularly draws significant international figures to its debates. Or it used to, speakers have been withdrawing rather than share a podium with Mr Sullivan. Figures such as Interpol Secretary General Ronald Noble, UK director of Human Rights Watch David Mepham, and Nobel Peace Laureate Tawakkol Karman have found it impossible to reconcile their roles and conscience with gladhanding an accused rapist.

"I had already planned to be in London to attend the Global Summit to End Sexual Violence in Conflicts…but the rape allegations levelled against the President of the Oxford Union have unfortunately limited my options.

"I cannot attend an event against rape and at the same time take part in another event supervised by a person accused of rape." -Tawakkol Karman


An open letter signed by various great and good figures has been published urging Mr Sullivan to step down rather than continue with what many see as bringing the Union into disrepute, though the student rag the Oxford Tab claims legal advice suggesting this campaign risks being seen as prejudicial to any trial. Professor A.C Grayling (who is apparently a big name in philosophy circles) has also criticized the growing boycott and urged an adherence to the principle of innocence until guilt is proven.

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