Written by Toby Cray and Rhiannon Jenkins
TW: This article contains description of a sexual assault.
Trapped and alone, Lyla* was helpless as her friend bore down on her. “At that moment it became apparent I didn’t know this person, and it made me fear for my life.”
Freshers’ is always a week to remember, but Lyla’s was soon to become unforgettable for all the wrong reasons.
“I was still getting to know people, but I feel like I formed a friendship with him and I kind of trusted him.” So, when he called in the early hours of the morning one day, she picked up. “He said get ready, get dressed, we’re going out.”
Lyla thought they would head to a flat party and told him to wait outside while she finished getting ready. He kept phoning her though, telling her to hurry up. “He kept being so persistent about it that I said he could wait in the front entrance of my accommodation—but not in my room, I made that clear to him.”
Lyla was rushing to get dressed properly when he turned up, and when she let him into the flat, she was distracted. It was too late when she realised that he’d followed her into her room and locked the door behind him.
“I kept telling him can you get out, I told him multiple times and he just wouldn’t listen. I told him that I had a boyfriend and he said ‘so what? No one has to know.’
She tried to fend off his gropes as he backed her up across the room, desperately asking “’could you leave, could you leave.’ I was thinking—it’s 3am, everyone’s asleep. I thought he was going to rape me. I just accepted it—maybe that’s weak of me.”
“He said ‘I’ll leave if you kiss me’… so I did, and then he left.”
Lyla was horrified to discover that she wasn’t the only one to have been targeted by the assailant. Three other women were also attacked by him in Oadby. He displayed a clear predatorial pattern of behaviour, including a similar pattern of messages he sent to all of the victims.
Lyla contacted the university but was ignored until nine months later when she was finally informed that someone was investigating her case. She passed on to him all of the messages she had collected, but “two months later he contacted me saying that the university had dropped the case and they had just given him a warning.”
Lyla was furious at how the university handled her case stating: “It feels like they care more about their reputation than students’ well-being.”
After the assault, the accommodation team at the university moved her assailant closer to Lyla, making her “scared to go outside in case I bumped into him.”
In support, the university gave her a few weeks of counselling sessions and a gym membership. It wasn’t enough for Lyla, who just wanted to feel safe. Meanwhile, “he could just walk freely at uni and prey on other girls.”
Universities across the country have previously been criticised for how they have handled allegations of sexual assault, with a 2018 BBC investigation finding that many survivors of sexual assault felt that they had been failed by their universities.
The university gave their response to this story by stating: “Whilst we cannot comment on individual cases, the University of Leicester has made it clear that any form of sexual harassment or violence is totally unacceptable and will not be tolerated here.
“Every allegation is taken extremely seriously and investigated, and students or staff affected will be supported and helped if they have experienced such behaviour.”
Lyla came forward with her story to raise awareness for students living in Oadby. She hopes it will encourage other students to speak out with their own stories of being assaulted on campus. “[During freshers] you just jump straight into friendships, without really thinking about it and that can put you in a lot of danger.”
Lyla has found keeping busy and talking to others “who have been in the same boat as you really helps to process what happened.” She has managed to regain her confidence, with the help of her family and friends, and feels positive about the future. However, the assault still haunts her from time-to-time but, most importantly, she “knows that it was not my fault.”
*Name has been changed to protect identity.
This feature is part of an on-going investigation into sexual assault at the University of Leicester. If you have would like to share your story with us as well, please email firstname.lastname@example.org. Anonymity is offered.
Rhiannon Jenkins is a final year English student passionate about activism, film & literature and travel. She also acts as Arts & Culture Chief Editor. You can find her on twitter here: @jenksrhiannon
Toby Cray is a second-year journalism student at the University of Leicester. You can find him on Instagram here: @toby5.c