Female students who appear on the BBC programme University Challenge have been subject to internet hate campaigns.
It began with Gail Trimble, the Oxford student whose triumphant appearances on University Challenge led to online sniping about her being a “horse-toothed snob”.
Another female student had her photograph posted on a blog beside sexual images and others have been criticised for the way they speak, their clothes and their nervous habits.
ITV Studios, which produces the quiz for the BBC, yesterday admitted contestants were routinely given a number to call if they needed “advice and support” over abuse.
Among those targeted was Marine Debray, 20, who represented Balliol College, Oxford, last year.
Debray, who read English and Modern Languages, told the Daily Mail: “People generally thought I was a stupid blonde and made sexual comments.
‘There was a guy who made a photo album of me intercut with photos of male genitalia.
“People seem to think that because I wasn’t this nerdy male then I shouldn’t be on there. Look how Gail Trimble was asked to pose for Nuts [magazine]. Just because a woman is smart doesn’t mean that she has to show you her boobs.”
Jenny Harris, 22, who won the series last year with Emmanuel College, Cambridge, was written into a spoof online article, which said she had a “brilliant mind, fuelled by a pair of breasts”.
She said viewers were prejudiced against women who take part.
“An aspect of it is the idea that women shouldn’t be showing off how clever they are, where this is more OK for boys,” she said.
One male student agreed that abuse was a problem on the show, which is presented by Jeremy Paxman and regularly attracts 2.5million viewers.
“Some people get it a lot worse than others,’ he said. ‘It’s not in any particular place on the internet. It’s all over the place.”
Trimble was 26 when she captained Corpus Christi in 2009 and famously won 125 points in the last four minutes of the final. However, following one appearance, one viewer wrote that she was “brain-rupturingly irritating and smug.”
Yuan Yang, of Oxford University Student Union, said: “Online harassment is not a laugh but a serious indicator of a lack of respect for women.”
A spokesman for ITV Studios described the online abuse as “unusual”.
He said: “If there is any unwanted attention we provide contestants with the contact details of someone who can give support and advice.”