[Content Warning: This article discusses sexual assault]
Words || Lydia Jupp
Upon the release of the Australian Human Rights Commission’s Report on sexual violence on university campuses, Change the Course, Bettina Arndt wrote that she was relieved at the statistics. She said that the report was a “rare good news story” and the report proved that there was no rape crisis at Australian universities. The statistics, she said, were a “hoax” and a “con”.
Evidence shows that a majority of people who experience sexual violence will not report these experiences, for a large number of reasons. There are significant barriers to the safe reporting of sexual violence, including the harrowing experience of reliving the event. Although the Change the Course Report is somewhat alleviated of these barriers, it is important to note that the actual number of incidences on campus is still likely to be larger than what has been reported.
The fact that, on average, 21% of uni students were sexually harassed on campus and 1.6% were sexually assaulted on campus in 2015 or 2016 is scary enough that it can be imagined that some would bury their heads in the sand. Not only that, but here at Macquarie, only 10% of people knew a lot or everything about how to report, however a staggering amount of students who experienced sexual violence chose not to report, either because they didn’t know how, or didn’t think their experience was serious enough.
It’s no surprise that the Macquarie Liberals chose to host Bettina Ardnt’s event “Is There Really A Sexual Assault Crisis On University Campuses.” It has been met with controversy and notoriety across campuses, with the most recent being the protests at the University of Sydney, and it does wonders for shining a spotlight on the group that hosts it. She claims that modern feminists have over exaggerated cases of sexual violence on campus, and that their main reasons for doing so is to convict more men in “he said, she said” cases.
The Vice Chancellor said in August that “as an institution, we [Macquarie] are committed to preventing these behaviours and fostering a culture of safety and respect” and has discussed the “University’s commitment to provide a safe environment for students and staff through cultural and organisational change.” Does hosting an event that calls the rape crisis on campus a myth sound like a beneficial cultural change? Ms Ardnt is entitled to her opinion, but are we, as a university community, willing to compromise the safety and well being of our students? The Women’s Collective has already had multiple messages from survivors seriously concerned about how the event will affect them and discussion on campus. They do not feel safe at their own university, they’re exhausted at fighting what seems to be a losing battle, and at worst, they’re re-traumatised. The hosting of this event compromises the university’s previously stated values, trivilises survivor’s stories, and silences those with stories yet to be told.
These last couple of years, the right has been talking a lot about free speech and political correctness. In their eyes, if we protest, we’re fascists who are trying to deny them free speech (despite the fact that protesting is in itself free speech). Conservatives thrive on this discussion of their lack of “free speech”, despite the fact that we don’t actually have free speech in Australia due to our lack of a Bill of Rights – just look at our defamation laws. The backlash to Arndt coming to speak on campus isn’t concern for the wellbeing of students, but just political correctness gone mad- Arndt herself has already tweeted that the “intolerant left is doing their best to stop the next speech in my campus tour” in reference to it. They want us to make a fuss so they can go on Sky News or write in The Australian and talk about the ways that university campuses have become overrun with the fascist left who shut down any discussion that contradicts their own views. Rather than protest with a rally, we’ve decided to hold a more accessible event at the same time on the other side of the campus that supports survivors, promotes awareness of the sexual violence and rape culture that exists on our campus, as well as raising money for End Rape On Campus Australia.
We’re not an overly political campus. We don’t have a student union. We don’t elect our own Student Representative Council. Student engagement in events is really low, even if it’s for something fun or free. An aggressive, potentially violent protest outside of Arndt’s event doesn’t work for us because people wouldn’t attend. Instead, we’re loudly and openly supporting survivors, believing their stories, and being there for those who’s stories haven’t been told yet. We’ve almost had 400 responses to our Faceook event, I’ve never seen that kind of student participation and community in my time at Macquarie.
If you want to support and amplify the voices of survivors and those that advocate for them, as well as create positive community change on our campus, please support our event in Conference Room D in MAZE, next Wednesday at 6pm.
If you or someone you know is seeking help for the issues discussed above, please click this link for information about counselling, reporting and helpline services both internal and external from Macquarie. If you would like more information about consent, prevention and helping others on campus, please contact Respect. Now. Always.
The following is a statement from Damien Pace, event organiser and Liberal Club VP of Development.
“The purpose of Arndt’s talk is to inform debate around an issue of public interest, namely media coverage and institutional responses to the serious problem of sexual assault. It is extremely important in the present environment whereby calls have been made to set up America style ‘Title IX Tribunals’ on university campuses which have resulted in successful legal challenges against US universities due to the denial of basic procedural fairness. This misplaced response in the US came on the back of misleading claims about the extent of the problem’s prevalence which were based on surveys suffering from basic methodological flaws. Such responses and their inevitable results serve neither the interests of justice nor the welfare of sexual assault survivors who already struggle to have their claims taken seriously and face an even greater problem if and when media stories, such as the high-profile “mattress girl” case which resulted in a successful legal challenge against the accused’s university after the accuser’s claim was discredited, come to light.
Arndt is an experienced psychologist, sex therapist and public commentator whose talk informs this public debate by arguing against reactionary responses to the problem which have perverse results. Her talk is based off statistics and evidence as well as real-life case studies. The aim is not to oppose initiatives such as “Respect Now Always” which the Liberal club has always supported- but to compliment the wider, nuanced discourse around these issues to encourage an appropriate, rational response. A policy designed to increase awareness, promote practical safety, and increase student’s understanding of their rights can only serve to decrease incidences of sexual assault. To be clear, any incidences of sexual assault are too many.
Universities are places of free expression and intellectual objectivity and inquiry, where ideas are meant to be debated and challenged. We’re proud to support this principle and invite those opposed to the speaker to attend and meaningfully engage with or challenge her case rather than infantalising and patronising students and sexual assault survivors by misrepresenting the event or trying to shut her down.”