On Saturday August 27, students, including Wom*n’s officer Anna Hush, marched through USyd with mattresses bearing various phrases, including “Welcome to the Hunting Ground”, marked with appropriately red paint. As part of the USU’s Radical Sex and Consent Week both Anna Hush and Nina Funnell – a previous student and USyd media tutor – sat down to detail the very nature of this “hunting ground” in a panel discussion exploring rape culture on campus.
Aided by the microphone’s early failure, the panel soon became more of an intimate discussion. Attendees sat sprawled on beanbags, huddling against the wind and outside sounds, hanging off Anna and Nina’s every soft-spoken word. There was perhaps no more apt way to discuss such an important and personal issue. In the safe space of the con-dome, there existed a certain camaraderie; it was a space in which we began to feel as if we could no longer be hunted.
But outside the con-dome and on campus grounds, the task of achieving safety was not quite as simple as sharing beanbags with strangers. This panel made this reality ever more evident in my mind. Recent campaigns for reform have focused on campus environments, but why here? Whilst both panellists claimed there were no simple answers to this question, I found their insights extremely useful. Anna highlighted the lack of institutional response to sexual assault on campus as a core factor.
“Often they [rapists] can commit sexual assault multiple times before the institution is willing to do anything…there is no retribution and with that knowledge the culture continues,” she said.
Both Anna and Nina shook their heads when discussing the way blame is thrust on alcoholism in colleges. “To state that alcohol is the cause of sexual assault is to victim blame,” Nina said. She then suggested that this attitude discourages victims from reporting their sexual assault.
Nina additionally highlighted inadequacies in sex education in high school, particularly the failure to teach consent. “University becomes a meeting ground of this misinformation.”
However the University is more than just a setting to assault. The most frustrating point highlighted by this panel was this – when it comes to preventing sexual assault, the University becomes its own obstacle. One of these obstacles is the University’s “reactive strategy”.
“The University only becomes involved in the most extreme cases,” Anna said. Instead, she claims that they need to adopt a “proactive strategy” which would be beneficial to both students and maintaining the image the University is evidently concerned about. Nina concluded these sentiments stating that “solving the problem needs to start from the top down, the pressure on the victims is not appropriate”.
I would have liked this panel to include a representative from one of USyd’s residential colleges. It is evident that the issue of sexual assault within colleges is still treated with hesitance, reflective of the colleges’ so far meek response to sexual assault. “It is difficult to speak for them,” Anna admitted when prompted about what measures were currently being taken within colleges.
The panel was summed up on a cautiously optimistic note. In outlining the challenges that they still face, it was difficult for panellists to feel that this issue would be soon resolved. However, the reason this panel, and Radical Sex and Consent Week more broadly, is so important, is precisely because of this. It is high time for these discussions to be had, so that we can properly grapple with the challenging path that lies ahead to ensure sustainable reform in this area. So, come, learn and listen, and prove that there is some hope for campus safety after all.
* A previous version of this article said Nina Funnell had quoted that 90 per cent of sexual assaults of university students happen in campus environments. This was incorrect. That statistic (from the United States) in fact refers to repeat offenders.