Feminist academic loses legal case against university over ‘terf’ claims

Raquel Rosario Sanchez, 32, had claimed the University of Bristol had failed to protect her from harassment by trans rights activists.

22 April 2022

A feminist PhD student has lost her legal case against a university after claiming she suffered harassment and bullying from trans rights activists.

Raquel Rosario Sanchez, 32, sued the University of Bristol alleging it failed to protect her from the activists, who targeted her over her involvement with campaign group Woman’s Place UK.

She brought a claim against the university for damages in contract, negligence and the Equality Act over the way it handled her complaints about being targeted.

Ms Rosario Sanchez, whose academic background is in feminism, began her PhD course in autumn 2017, researching men who pay for sex.

She said both her mental health and her academic performance suffered as a result of online attacks that began in February 2018.

Activists had protested against a talk she gave and labelled her a “terf” – a trans-exclusionary radical feminist – and claimed she was “spreading hate about trans people”.

A five-day hearing at Bristol Civil Justice Centre in February heard one student, known only as AA, faced disciplinary proceedings for alleged harassment.

Ms Rosario Sanchez has lost her civil action against the University of Bristol over alleged bullying by trans rights activists at the university (Ben Birchall/PA)
Raquel Rosario Sanchez has lost her civil action against the University of Bristol (Ben Birchall/PA)

In one social media post, AA wrote: “I’m gonna eat pizza in bed. And with every bite my solid mass of queerness will grow denser… all the better to punch them terfs with.”

Another social media user suggested throwing eggs at those attending the meeting and slapping an attendee on the face.

The disciplinary proceedings were later dropped in spring 2019 due to AA’s worsening mental health.

Judge Alex Ralton dismissed Ms Rosario Sanchez’s claim and said his ruling focused on how the university managed her complaints rather than any judgment about gender rights.

“Generally, it is not for me in this case to pass judgment on the acceptability of the things said and done and whether the line beyond acceptable free speech was crossed, but I do observe that the threat or use of violence such as the threat of throwing eggs or a punch obviously crosses that line and amounts to abhorrent and deplorable conduct,” he said.

“The university accepts that Ms Rosario Sanchez was the victim of unacceptable behaviour, particularly in the form of AA’s threat of violence.

“However, it was apparent in evidence that Ms Rosario Sanchez perceived behaviour as unacceptable to her which may nonetheless be permissible in the form of free speech – albeit offensive and rude – such as the use of the acronym terf.”

But he said Ms Rosario Sanchez “was not carefully informed and guided” about the disciplinary process and the information was delivered “in somewhat piecemeal fashion”.

He added: “Ms Rosario Sanchez’s complaints could have been progressed in a much better fashion, and this has already been recognised by the university, but there is no evidence of any malice on the part of any member of staff of the university towards Ms Rosario Sanchez and there is no evidence to support any inference of a strategy to close Ms Rosario Sanchez down rather than AA.”

Ms Rosario Sanchez said she is pleased the university had recognised her concerns about her personal safety.

“While I have known the truth all along, I cannot emphasise enough how at peace I feel knowing that this dark cloud that has hung over my head every day is now gone,” she said.

“I did not deserve years of intimidation for daring to chair a feminist meeting or for defending sex-based feminism. Nobody does.

“No student should ever have to incur a psychiatric injury over violent and threatening behaviour by their colleagues, and the byzantine policies and procedures of academic institutions that are meant to protect everyone equally.

“The most difficult aspect of this process has been doing this on my own, while my family is thousands of miles away from me.

“I took a principled position that would be challenging for all of us, but they rallied around me regardless.

“Character is forged through adversity. While this outcome was unexpected, I feel no regret, no anger and no sadness within my heart about this.”

A university spokeswoman said: “From the outset, we have sought to remain neutral in our management of this conflict and to follow our internal complaints procedure.

“While we are pleased the judge found this to be the case, dismissing all claims made against us, we acknowledge that this has been an incredibly challenging period for everyone involved.”

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