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Cambridge exam shocks with graphic question

Undergraduates sitting a criminal law exam at the University of Cambridge recently were faced with a question containing graphic descriptions of oral sex, male rape and torture.

Undergraduates sitting a criminal law exam at the University of Cambridge recently were faced with a question containing graphic descriptions of oral sex, male rape and torture. An image of the question has since gone viral and has people questioning whether a line has been crossed.

More than 200 undergraduates sat the criminal law paper set by The University of Cambridge’s Faculty of Law on the morning of the 1st of June. In order to assess student understanding of various areas on criminal jurisdiction they were presented with a hypothetical drinking society initiation ceremony and asked if any offences were committed by those involved.

Sebastian Salek, law student at Clare College Cambridge and former News Editor of The Tab first brought the question to public attention by featuring it on his blog. 

The question read:

Sandra is President of The Vizards, a College drinking society. She is organising the initiation of new members. After a great deal of alcohol has been drunk, the members of the society form a circle around Billy, Gilbert and Richard who are to be initiated.

(i) Sandra blindfolds Billy and tells him that Tracey will suck his penis. Jonny does so.

(ii) Sandra penetrates Gilbert’s anus with a bottle. Although Gilbert appears to resist, and has to be held down by Tracey, he actually enjoys the experience.

(iii) Sandra waxes Richard’s pubic hair and pulls it off with such force that she removes a significant part of his skin. The wound becomes infected, but Richard is so embarrassed that he does not get medical help and dies.

Consider what offences, if any, have been committed.

University society initiations
The concept of society initiations will probably be familiar to undergraduates across the country. Stories of extreme alcohol consumption, eating vile concoctions and humiliating dares in order to gain access to a society have been popping up in the press for years.

Initiations of any sort are banned at Keele University, while University of Gloucester students were in trouble a few years ago for an alleged Nazi themed initiation for a sports society and Swansea students were in the news recently for being forced to drink each other’s vomit as part of initiations. 

Reactions to the question
As a former Cambridge student myself, I was interested to see how this was being discussed by my Facebook friends who are either current or former students of the university. Interestingly the discussion I did find seemed to be more focused on answering the question of what offences had been committed, rather than the appropriateness of the question. Some students appear to find it slightly amusing that the examiners setting the questions have acknowledged the notorious drinking society initiations that most Cambridge academics choose to ignore. 

News outlets have reported that some students who sat the exam were distressed afterwards by the graphic nature of the question. Most of the discussion I have been able to follow has acknowledged that it reflects an area of law which needs to be learned by the students and that perhaps this might be an overly graphic situation to put forward to test their knowledge. However the general consensus seems to be that the question is an interesting one.

A spokesman for the university has stated that students sitting this exam paper are presented with hypothetical situations in order to test their understanding of different aspects of criminal law.

What do you think? Was this question appropriate? Have your say in the comments section below, on Facebook or on Twitter.