So yesterday I was sitting in the bar, after unwillingly being coaxed out for lunch amidst writing an awful essay. The trade-off for this was that I would bring my laptop and at least pretend that I was still working on it. I was taking a leisurely scroll through Facebook while sipping at some cider when something caught my eye.
Student media is generally good fun, but every now and then it does stumble on some pretty heavy stuff. With trepidation, I clicked on a link from our University of Sydney counterparts Honi Soit. The title sums everything up neatly: “Uni fails sexual harassment victim”.
Universities have an institutional issue with handling cases of sexual harassment and violence on campuses. Hell, society as a whole fails to address these cases. But that makes it no less shocking when campuses as prestigious as USyd fail to protect the victim/survivors of such disgusting acts.
The scale and magnitude of this failure is simply astounding; not only was the University made aware that this case of sexual harassment had occurred in January, they have allowed Alexander Wright to continue living and studying on campus. Wright has also been permitted to continue working as a Resident Liaison at USyd-owned and operated campus accommodation.
If this failure wasn’t enough, the fallout from Honi Soit‘s reporting has caused a cascade of bullshit, leading to the redacting of anything and everything that could identify Wright for what he is: an abuser. Despite a signed admission of guilt and an apology sent, it would appear that consideration of Wright’s wishes have been prioritised over that of the women who he violated.
Ultimately the USyd Student Representative Council (that’s the peak body for their student organisation) President Jennifer Light passed down these orders, which due to the structural and funding agreements, Honi Soit was compelled to comply with; “The editorial team was obliged to obey the instructions of the SRC. We, however, strongly disagree with the concerns raised by the University and the orders given to us by the SRC” (You can find their full editorial here).
That’s right, the student organisation made this happen. The same student organisation who has no less than two Sexual Harassment Officers and two Wom*n’s Officers sitting on the SRC. The same organisation whose job it is to represent and advocate for students, particularly those who are more heavily marginalised on university campus and wider society. Instead of stepping up to the challenge and fighting for the rights and needs of the victim/survivor, the SRC threw her under the bus. The mind boggles.
For those of you sitting at home thinking “well this is fucked, but at least it doesn’t happen here at Monash”, think again. In my year and a half as an MSA Women’s Officer, I’ve seen my fair amount of heinous bullshit. What is happening at USyd is not an isolated event, rather, one of many cases reported across Australia. What Honi Soit have done however, is shed light on an occurrence that would be otherwise swept under the rug.
Why is it that we collectively turn a blind eye, undermine and/or ignore cases of sexual assault, harassment and violence? We seem to have a deep seated denial that this could happen to us, to those we love, and consequently take an individualistic approach. Altruism and heck, even human decency be damned, I only care if it happens to me, right?
We also live in a world in which the dominant paradigm is that of male dominance and feminine subservience. These attitudes are clearly pointed to in VicHealth’s recent study on community attitudes to violence against women. Among other findings, VicHealth ascertained that 49% of the population held the belief that women falsify or exaggerate claims of rape and domestic violence. There is a societal belief that women invoke these terrible crimes in order to ‘get what we want’ or to gain pity. Either that, or that as a woman, I am unable to correctly identify what happens to my body, or that I am ‘too emotional’ to understand if I have been violated or not.
As a woman, I should be granted bodily autonomy. I should be granted the right to dictate the terms and conditions of the ways in which my body and my existence is sexualised, should I chose that path. I should be able to rely on others to grant me at least some modicum of respect for my consent.
Call me cynical, but I’m pretty sure the most recent scandal surrounding the leaked nude celebrity pics was because of just that; they were celebrities. Jennifer Lawrence commands a great deal of social capital, causing the large backlash in social commentary surrounding the issue. But what about the woman at USyd who experienced a similar situation? Do we tell her that she should never have sex because this is to be expected? Do we tell her that she is not as important because she isn’t famous? Women of the world, it’s time to strap on those chastity belts, put on your favourite loosely fitting turtle neck and invest in a floor length billowy skirt (I better not see any ankle from any of you).
Oh wait no, don’t do that (unless you want to of course), because that’s fucking ridiculous. The idea that women are obliged to control every aspect of how others treat themselves and their body, right down to the fine art of mind reading just to check that others will respect their boundaries and consent, is absurd. And speaking of absurd and ridiculous, how about this malarkey about protecting the anonymity of a self-confessed abuser.
Alexander Wright sent the woman he harassed a signed admission of guilt and apology MONTHS after the fact, yet the second he is labelled as what he is and associated with what he has done, countless people in positions of power rush to his defence, expressing concerns for his privacy. All of this, despite the fact that, according to Honi Soit editors, there is absolutely no legal justification for this course of action.
If women are expected to be responsible for every single facet of their wellbeing, including magically knowing abusers and rapists to stay away from, where is the logic behind hiding who these people are? Instead of actively taking a stance against horrendous acts of sexual harassment abuse and violence, countless university staff as well as SRC President Jennifer Light are trying push it aside and hide it from sight. Instead of empowering Women on campus with the knowledge of yet another individual who actively violates them, these people seek to protect the perpetrator, with no justice to the victim/survivor.
In doing this, the USyd administration and Light have become complicit in Wright’s actions, sending a clear message that his actions are not deserving of revulsion. The USyd administration and Light are actively contributing to rape culture not just on campus, but in wider society. For this, they should all feel deeply ashamed.
Honi Soit have put it more succinctly then I ever could; “Campus should be a safe space for all students. For the past eight months, the University failed the woman. Today, the University failed all victims of sexual harassment and abuse. It chose to side with someone who disrespected another’s consent in a moment of vulnerability. It sent a message: victims will not find justice from it, but perpetrators will find protection.” Replace USyd with any other name, and you will see the same things time and time again. It’s time that we as a university community, as well as citizens of wider society actually stand up as collective, to send a clear message that sexual violence and sexual harassment are unwelcome in our communities.
If you need help, the Centre Against Sexual Assault (CASA) have councillors on campus Monday at Clayton and Tuesday at Caulfield. Otherwise you can find your local CASA branch here: http://www.casa.org.au.
The MSA Women’s Department are able to provide support and referrals, you can find us either in the our office on the first floor of the campus centre, or via email at email@example.com.
Lot’s Wife thanks Honi Soit for their assistance in the preparation of this piece