Actresses at prestigious drama college win compensation after judge finds it failed to investigate allegations of sexual assaults by male classmate
- Alyse McCamish and Sydney Feder waived right to anonymity to sue RWCMD
Two former students at a prestigious drama college today won compensation after accusing senior staff of failing to properly investigate sexual assaults.
Alyse McCamish and Sydney Feder, both 26, bravely waived their right to anonymity to sue the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama – the former college of stars such as Sir Anthony Hopkins, Rob Brydon and Ruth Jones.
Ms McCamish was awarded £14,000 in damages and Ms Feder £5,000 after a legal battle over their sex attack ordeal – saying college officials failed to properly protect students from sex predators.
The judge also made a landmark ruling that universities do ‘have a duty of care’ to students to carry out reasonable investigations over allegations of sexual assault.
The women claim assault was ‘commonplace’ amid a ‘toxic environment’ at the Cardiff college, where it was passed off as ‘part of the student/acting experience’ and something to be tolerated.
Alyse McCamish, who is pictured outside Central London County Court, was awarded £14,000 in damages
Sydney Feder (pictured outside Central London County Court), from Connecticut but is now London-based, alleges she was assaulted in a dressing room at the college in November 2017 by the same male student who assaulted Ms McCamish the previous year
Ms McCamish (pictured), who is from Tennessee and auditioned for the college in Chicago, said she was sexually assaulted by a male student in 2016
Both women travelled from their homes in the Unites States to study at the college when they were teenagers.
Ms McCamish, who is from Tennessee and auditioned for the college in Chicago, said she was sexually assaulted by a male student in 2016.
She alleged he assaulted her four times in student accommodation, including allegations he masturbated in front of her and pushed her against a wall to perform oral sex over her pants.
She was spurred into complaining in June 2017 after an improvisation class during which she was locked into a room with other students, including her alleged attacker, who then stripped naked, leaving her feeling ‘upset, trapped and distressed.’
But Ms McCamish, now an LA-based actor, said she reported the incidents to RWCMD in June 2017, but was told to go to the police or ‘get over it’. She said she asked staff to separate her from the alleged perpetrator and told the court she did everything she could to avoid him.
READ MORE: Two actresses who say they were sexually assaulted by male classmate at Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama launch court fight for compensation after claiming the school offered ‘virtually no support’
Despite the allegations, the alleged attacker was not suspended and it was not until January 2018 that Ms McCamish made a formal written complaint.
‘When I first reported that I had been repeatedly sexually assaulted by a student who was violent and coercive and had carried out the first attack when I was incapacitated, the immediate response from RWCMD was “It sounds like a relationship gone wrong”,’ Ms McCamish said.
‘I wasn’t believed then and right up until the trial RWCMD said that they would put me to proof and that they would cross examine me about those assaults.’
Ms Feder, from Connecticut but is now London-based, alleges she was assaulted in a dressing room at the college in November 2017 by the same male student who assaulted Ms McCamish the previous year. She claims she reported it to RWCMD two months later.
She alleged the student entered a school changing room, ran at her, pinned her down on a desk and forcibly ‘massaged’ her back and head until she cried out in pain.
The drama school concluded that there was ‘insufficient evidence’ to support Ms McCamish’s claims but agreed Ms Feder had been subjected to ‘inappropriate touching.’
The male student was formally warned, suspended for two weeks, and required to agree a reintegration plan. He appealed and his suspension was halved.
‘It is nearly six years since I reported that I had been sexually assaulted by a student at RWCMD,’ Ms Feder said.
‘Now that we have this judgment, for the first time I feel that somebody has heard what I have to say and agreed that what happened to me since then was wrong.’
Ms Feder added: ‘I hope that no student at RWCMD or any university has to go through what Alyse and I endured. Sadly, I have no confidence that RWCMD will not repeat their behaviour,’ she added.
Both women bravely waived their right to anonymity to sue the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama (pictured) – the former college of stars such as Sir Anthony Hopkins, Rob Brydon and Ruth Jones
McCamish (pictured), now an LA-based actor, said she reported the incidents to RWCMD in June 2017, but was told to go to the police or ‘get over it’
Ms Feder alleged the student entered a school changing room, ran at her, pinned her down on a desk and forcibly ‘massaged’ her back and head until she cried out in pain
‘I know of others who have suffered because their attitude towards sexual harassment.’
Recorder John Halford ruled in favour of Ms McCamish and Ms Feder at the Central London County Court. He found RWCMD was negligent in its response to the sexual assault allegations.
After the ruling, the RWCMD said: ‘Nothing is more important to us than keeping our students safe. We are sorry that the women involved in this case were hurt by aspects of the way the college responded to their complaints.
‘Since 2017, we’ve transformed how we respond to sensitive disclosures, how we deal with complaints or concerns and how we support and safeguard our students.
‘We are also determined that at RWCMD we will continue to do everything we can to be a safe and respectful learning space.’
Universities UK, which represents 142 institutions, said: ‘Any instance of assault or harassment is unacceptable and it is vital that universities handle incidents robustly and appropriately. Universities understand that this work is ongoing, and there is more to do in this space.’
In a statement following the judgment, RWCMD Principal Professor Helena Gaunt, said: ‘Universities and the theatre/film industries have made real changes in recent years in relation to many of the issues raised in this case. This includes how challenging aspects of an actor’s training – such as physical contact and intimacy – are taught.’
Professor Gaunt said the school is today publishing a 10-point summary of changes it has introduced, adding that following a major review, the undergraduate actors course received a 100 per cent satisfactory rating in the National Student Survey.
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