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Was Cambridge University's 'Sex Offence' Initiation Exam Question Inappropriate?

03/06/2013 10:35 BST | Updated 03/06/2013 14:45 BST

A Cambridge University exam has been described as "horrific" after questions included apparent male rape, torture and death - but some students have said they did not even "bat an eyelid".

The university's first-year law students were sitting a criminal law paper when they were asked to decide whether a hypothetical scenario about a drinking society constituted an offence.

cambridge exam question

The exam question posed to law students

The question, which was set to 200 students on Saturday morning, 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."

Sebastian Salek, who first published the question on his blog, told HuffPost UK: ''I'm surprised the University is acknowledging a part of Cambridge culture that it usually tends to ignore. I'm not convinced they're intending to take a particular stance on drinking societies though."

Although The Vizards group is fictional, some students are angry at the "misrepresentation" of drinking societies at the university, including one Cambridge English student who tweeted:

But Luke Martin-Fuller, who sat the exam, said none of the students reacted to the question during the exam.

"Nobody batted an eyelid, nobody sniggered or looked up or glanced at anyone – you just got on with it," he told the Daily Telegraph.

"I can see why it might look a bit funny. I can understand why people might think that's a bit risqué."

One law student from Hull University added:

Several of Cambridge's drinking societies have come under the spotlight recently; in particular Wyverns Society, which cancelled its annual female bikini jelly wrestling competition after a petition from students.

SEE ALSO: Swansea Students Made To 'Drink Each Other's Vomit' In Shocking Initiation Ceremonies

A spokesperson for Cambridge University confirmed the question, saying: “In the Part One Criminal Law examination paper set by the University of Cambridge Law Faculty hypothetical situations are presented in order to test students' understanding of different aspects of Criminal Law."

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After the story was posted in social sharing site Reddit, user Mondegreen24 attempted to answer the questions, commenting:

"Cambridge University lawyer here. This was indeed a real paper, sat by the first years on 1 June 2013.

"Bear in mind I’m a third year, so I haven’t revised this topic in years, but focusing on the defences:

"(i) raises issues of consent, and whether the identity of the person doing the sucking (i.e. male/female) is enough to vitiate consent, and therefore make it a sexual offence.

"(ii) wants you to discuss whether the fact that he later enjoys it is relevant. I’d argue that he wasn’t consenting at the time when he was penetrated (he was being held down), so it’s irrelevant. However, the position might be different in a “rape fantasy” context, which is a problem question I was set for a supervision once.

"(iii) is another consent point – generally you can’t consent to harm above “actual bodily harm” (ABH), which is relatively minor, so there’s a question of whether the harm caused is in fact grievous bodily harm (GBH, more serious than ABH). There are also certain exceptions to this consent principle, such as “rough horseplay”, so there’s the issue of whether you can make the waxing and general “shenanigans” fit within the scope of one of these recognised defences to the offence of ABH/GBH."