OP-ED: Bettina Arndt should not be on campus

Free speech is not an absolute right

Bettina Arndt next to the Liberal Club stall - photoshop

CW: Sexual Assault

There exists a right to free speech but there also exists a right not to be intimidated, belittled and silenced.

On Tuesday 11th September, the Liberal Club will host Arndt as part of her national university tour. Arndt will present her theory that the rape crisis on university campuses is a myth. She will argue that community uproar regarding rape is propagated by “modern feminists” to give the “false idea of rape-infested university campuses”. And, where rape does occur, she will claim that it is often a result of the victim’s own behaviour.

Naturally, there will be students in the audience who are interested in sexual assault on campus. Among them will be students who have been sexually assaulted but have not reported it. Students who prefer to stay silent rather than recount a deeply personal, often humiliating experience. Students who fear to expose themselves to unjustified backlash from individuals like Arndt, who absolve the perpetrator from responsibility and blame the victim.

We hope these people will be able to overcome the trauma of their experiences and feel empowered in their environments. But by allowing Arndt to claim that rape on campus is not prolific enough to justify a vigorous social and institutional response, we are further disempowering victims. By condoning her claim that female victims have a culpable role in their rape by being intoxicated, we are impeding womens’ ability to feel safe and supported when reporting sexual assault. By implicitly blaming the victim and forcing women to change their daily behaviour, we enable the actions of men who have raped and continue to rape women.

Arndt’s right to defend her claim does not supersede the right of these women to feel safe to be heard on campus. Universities are not only a theatre for debate; they are places where students learn, socialise, and live. As a university, we must create a supportive space where we empower individuals who report sexual assault and work with them to build structural policies that provide ongoing support.

Indignantly demanding the right to free speech does not excuse blaming victims for gross acts of indecency caused by others. Nor does it excuse the reality that victim-blaming discourages the future reporting of sexual assault, disempowering victims and limiting our access to statistical information.

It goes without saying that sexual assault has no place on campus. Neither do the opinions of Bettina Arndt.