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“Universities have a rape problem”: Women’s Collective rally against sexual violence

Students rally in anticipation of survey results.

Despite the drizzle, activists from the Women’s Collectives of USyd, UTS and Macquarie came out in droves on Wednesday to weather the storm and fight for survivors of sexual violence. Beginning at the Quad, Women’s Officers Kimmy Dibben and Amelia Mertha outlined WoCo’s demands:

An end to sexual violence on campus, on placements and in student housing

Protestors noted how important it was to extend protections for survivors beyond the USyd campus. Students face dangers on placements where there are often egregious power imbalances and little support from teaching staff or management. 

Nursing student Emilie Heath bravely shared her story of sexual harassment during placement, saying how “person after person” should have protected her, but failed to do so. Eventually, the system failed her as she was not believed. Dibben castigated that this story was all too common, and is an indictment on the University and its duty of care to students. 

Release the USYD results of the National Study Safety Survey

After activists expressed scepticism over a Universities Australia survey on sexual violence as it is perceived as virtue-signalling, 2020 Education Officer Jazz Breen spoke about how little has changed since the last survey in 2016. “We already know the results,” she said. “At this point, the university sector is hiding behind running more surveys. They know there is an issue, we don’t need any more surveys.” 

Breen noted that the government incentivises women to stay quiet, both as they are pushed into precarity and silenced about sexual assault. She argues the university system “funnels people into degrees that rely on unpaid and gendered labour. These are two sides of the same coin.” 

More funding and resources to survivor support on campus

Dibben spoke about how the Women’s Collective is leading the battle to increase support and funding for survivors on campus, which is “on top of the battle we are already fighting every day.” Finola Laughren, a PhD candidate and NTEU member spoke about how the issue of sexual violence intersects with the slew of attacks to pay and job security that staff face, Ultimately, the speakers noted that USyd, UTS and other universities prioritise their corporate reputation and profits over survivors. 

2019 Macquarie Women’s Collective Officer and worker for End Rape on Campus Lydia Jupp spoke to the shocking statistics about sexual violence in university settings. “For each weekday during semester, there are 60 students assaulted in class, at college or at a uni social event.” Despite these statistics being well known among Australian universities, she argued the university has taken little action to make a dent in campus rape culture.

“Management’s ‘campaigns’ against sexual violence are only made so they feel good about themselves,” echoed UTS Women’s Officer Eshna Gupta, arguing that an award won by UTS for a campaign tackling sexual assault amounted to “virtue-signalling,” whilst they eschewed their real responsibilities.

Increase academic support and flexibility for survivors

2020 Women’s Officer Ellie Wilson spoke after the march to the Michael Spence Building, opening with important remarks about the cursory manner with which people, especially management, acknowledge Country. “It’s like ticking a box,” she said. “Less than 100 First Nations women are enrolled at USyd, and First Nations women experience the least reproductive justice and access to support after sexual violence.”

Wilson noted the university’s poor flexibility for survivors. “I fell through the cracks,” she said, speaking about how USyd failed to reach out and provide targeted trauma-informed support, instead suspending her. 

Abolish the colleges

In the wake of misogynistic bastion St Paul’s College accepting women in an attempt to fix its boy’s club culture, WoCo’s stance to abolish the colleges is strong. “Sexism and elitism is rooted in the very core of the college,” the Women’s Officers cried. The Women’s Collective is fighting for the colleges to be replaced with safe, affordable student housing that protects women and gender minorities from sexual violence, rather than thrusting them into danger. 

Earlier, ongoing, holistic sex ed

Dibben and Mertha cast shame at how many people’s first interaction with the concept of consent is at 18. “Sex ed is abysmal at schools,” Dibben proclaimed. And as Wilson noted in her speech, the cursory ‘Consent Matters’ module in first-year does nothing to engage students with the holistic concept of consent. 

Cops off campus

As the protestors marched from the Quad to the Michael Spence Building, they cried “Cops off campus,” and “Red tape won’t cover up rape!” “Cops won’t protect us,” the Women’s Officers remarked. “Safe communities do.” 

It is hoped that when the National Survey results are released in March, management will finally take action on WoCo’s demands. 

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