TRIGGER WARNING: DISCUSSION OF SEXUAL ASSAULT, HARASSMENT AND GENDERED VIOLENCE.
Sexual harassment and assaults happen on our campus and among our friends. They occur often and aggressively. Yet they are notoriously under-reported. As last week showed, USyd has no effective policy to deal with these crimes, and there is no clear path of punishment for perpetrators. Our University, like society at large, has a culture of silencing survivors. With archaic policies, it is easier for institutions to ignore deep undercurrents of misogyny and disrespect for bodily autonomy. This has to change.
It started with “he didn’t mean it, he’s just messed up”, “he’s got borderline personality disorder” followed by “we’ve got to check that he’s not going to hurt himself” and “we care about both of you”.
The man who violently raped me, identified as being as part of the student left at USyd; these comments were made by friends who are current members of the student left at USyd.
Being raped took away my voice; it took away my power, my confidence, my belief that my body is my own, and my self worth – I didn’t speak up that it bothered me that my friends invited him to their events. I couldn’t – some part of my mind believed that it didn’t happen, that somehow I had gotten things confused, that I had read the situation incorrectly. I never went to the police; I couldn’t deal with remembering it, having my actions put under scrutiny. I guess in a way, I have never really accepted what happened. I never believed it could happen to me.
This is not an attack on the left, or on the people who made these comments, but rather a snapshot example of the normalisation of rape culture and rape apology within our society – even within groups who fight against it.
I only recently realised that I’ve been sexually assaulted and harassed. It started in my first semester of uni, when I was fresh out of high school. I had a crush on my tutor, who was in his mid twenties, and one of the first authority figures I encountered at uni. After the unit ended, he accepted my Facebook friend request and we agreed to meet up.
We had a fun night, but, though I was bright eyed and bushy tailed, I started to smell bullshit. He bragged about having hooked up with other first year students, was irritatingly mysterious about dumb things like how old he was, and what he studied. By the end of the night I was feeling uncomfortable with the lack of respect extended to me, and though I was happy to kiss, I began feeling uneasy when he started doing that dude thing where they rub their erection on you repeatedly.
“I don’t want to have sex.” I said. He paused in his boner rubbing.
“Oh,” he said, “Well, I do.” And then he kept going, actually silencing my response by covering my mouth.
I pushed him off and gathered my things, walking quickly to the road and hailing a cab. He followed me, and tried to kiss me again but I dodged it and jumped in the cab. It cost $56 to get home, but I was afraid to wait at the bus stop.
He messaged me to ask me to dinner, and in the light of day, I rewrote the narrative of the night before to be what I wanted: my long-time crush was asking me out, and it was going to be cool and fun. We went out again and it wasn’t what
He started messaging me a lot of stuff on Facebook, pages and pages of stuff. I asked him to stop and told him to stop messaging me. He told me he was in love with me. I told him to leave me alone.
He didn’t. I had to block him on Facebook. He texted me strange things which suggested that at times he knew where I was without my having said anything, or having access to my Facebook profile. I deleted his number, but this would mean that I would accidentally respond “Who’s this?” over the years of harassment that ensued. In the end, I have had to keep it saved so I don’t reply and risk eliciting more contact. This is unfortunate because I have to read his name when a message pops up, which makes me incredibly anxious and upset, and can leave me feeling shit for days.
He still messages me after over two years of my not responding. It’s harassment and it’s illegal, but I don’t want to pursue disciplinary avenues because I believe it would prompt him to try and find me more than he does already.
Taking your time to make a decision isn’t wrong, it’s the best option. It took me a little over a year before I reported the three cases of sexual harassment I experienced from a colleague in the SRC. Why? Because, even in the most understanding organisation in the University, dealing with and complaining about these situations is scary and daunting for anyone. It was only then I felt I had the network of support behind me to deal with whatever the world threw at me, even though I’m still yet to see what may come.
While the harassment itself is something that made me hurt and angry, it was the response from so many people I thought were good friends that hurt the most. Being told to “not do anything rash” when I talked about making a complaint, being told “maybe you’re overreacting” and “are you sure you’re doing this for the right reasons” were all told to me by people I considered some of my closest friends. It was only after I finally couldn’t tolerate working with the person – who I won’t name – anymore that I left student politics, and was no longer afraid of the dreaded comment – “you’re just complaining about them because you didn’t get what you wanted, it’s just a political attack”. That comment is still my greatest fear but one I now feel equipped to brush it off thanks to the support of the SRC and the people around me.
There are so many fears I had when dealing with this situation; I was worried what it would mean for the faction of which I was a part, I was afraid that I would get in trouble if I rocked the boat. When a friend brought up one instance, not knowing about another, I shut them up. The head of the faction later thanked me: “I don’t want to know what it was about, but thank you for defending him.” This was told to me by another woman.
The boy in question was going out with friends of mine on two of the three occasions I experienced harassment from him (different friends at different times). Another comment I received because of this was “don’t say anything, you’ll just upset her for no reason.” I was scared I’d lose a friend, that it was my fault. I lost one of the two, and I no longer consider it a loss. I don’t need people like that in my life. But the other has become one of the people I trust most to have my back. If anyone were to ask me what I want to see happen since filing my complaint, I’d like him to learn what consent means, that women are not there to serve him when he feel like it. Also to learn that telling anyone “I just need to get you out of my system” is not an excuse to harass them.
CALL-OUT: Honi are putting together an investigation on sexual harassment and intimate violence at USyd. Do you have a story that you would like to share? We can provide anonymity if required. Email firstname.lastname@example.org
If you or someone you know has either experienced sexual assault or feels confused/ unsure about an unwanted sexual experience and would like to speak with someone, please contact RPAH Sexual Assault Service on (02) 9515 9040 8.30-5pm weekdays or (02) 9515 6111 anytime if the sexual assault happened in the last 7 days.