You know how when you turn a rock over in your garden, you know there’s going to be earwigs and worms under there because it’s a rock that’s outside, obviously… but when you do turn it over you release a flood and it’s basically insect Armageddon?
That’s basically what the release of the Australian Human Rights Commission has done to universities across the country with the release of its national report on sexual assault and sexual harassment at Australian universities.
The numbers don’t lie:
63% of women have faced sexual harassment at university. 75% of the LGBTIQA community have.
Now, I’m not trying to make this the oppression Olympics. Both statistics are sickening. Having said this, at the time of writing, there was only one news article that focused on the findings for queer students for every ten that focused on women-identifying students. In addition to this, in the 7.30 report segment that aired on the 1st of August, the night after the report was released, no queer statistics were mentioned.
For this reason, this article will be focusing on the results that specifically apply to queer students, in the hope that the nation can get just as outraged at the plight of our queer students as it is right now of our women-identifying students.
Before we get into analysing the findings, here are the facts:
• 51% of students were sexually harassed on at least one occasion in 2016
• Women were almost twice as likely as men to have been sexually harassed in a university setting in 2016
• 44% of students who identified as bisexual and 38% of students who identified as gay, lesbian or homosexual were sexually harassed in a university setting in 2016 compared with 23% of students who identified as heterosexual
• Trans and gender diverse students (45%) were more likely to have been sexually harassed in a university setting in 2016 than cisgender women and men
• Students who identified as bisexual (3.8%) were also more likely than those who identified as heterosexual (1.5%) or gay, lesbian or homosexual (1.4%) to have been sexually assaulted in a university setting in 2015 or 2016
• Students who identified as bisexual or asexual were the most likely to have been sexually assaulted in 2015 and/or 2016
• Students who identified as bisexual (18%) or asexual (15%) were more likely than students who identified as gay, lesbian or homosexual (8%) or heterosexual (6%) to have been sexually assaulted in 2015 and/or 2016
• Students who identified as bisexual were also more likely than those who identified as heterosexual (1.5%) or gay, lesbian or homosexual (1.4%) to have been sexually assaulted in a university setting in 2015 and/or 2016
From this, we can deduce that the largest demographic of survivors of sexual assault and sexual harassment are queer students. This is worrying, especially considering that this demographic has the least support from universities and other community groups when it comes to reporting assault and harassment, and the least amount of materials available to them when they think that someone’s treatment of them might be assault or harassment.
The Australian Queer Students Network, one of the largest representative groups of queer students in Australia, released a response to the AHRC report. In this, they revealed that they were not contacted during the development stage of the survey, and there was minimal, if any, consultation with queer student leaders, queer community organisations or ally networks within universities. In addition to this, AQSN has identified unique barriers that impact queer students when reporting cases of sexual assault and sexual harassment to university and community leaders.
- Binary discourse leading to erasure – sexual assault is an issue where cisgender women are overrepresented as the victim, and cisgender men are overrepresented as the perpetrators. This means that the discussion falls into an assumption of a clear gender binary and therefore erases queer survivors of multiple same gender assault
- Recognising the perpetrator is known to the victim – queer communities within university settings are small and tight-knit. This makes it difficult for a victim to speak against a perpetrator, as they are at risk of losing their only support networks
- Corrective sexual assault – members of the queer community on the asexual spectrum are particularly affected by this issue. It occurs when the perpetrator attempts to change the victims sexual orientation by sexually assaulting them
- Lack of support services – university counselling or support services more often than not do not have queer training, which leads to incorrect assumptions surrounding gender, sexuality or sexual behaviours, and attraction
- Lack of resources – these are usually heavily gendered, and/or cisnormative and heteronormative
- Lack of sexual education – due to the heteronormativity of sexual education in primary and high schools, a majority of queer students have not been educated on topics such as sexual health and consent
- Hypersexualisation – in mainstream media, the queer community is hypersexualised in many instances, which can lead to consent not being respected or thought of as necessary, and pressure to ‘prove’ one’s sexuality
- Narrow definitions of sexual assault – resources that say sexual assault can only be defined as penis in vagina sex, that the word ‘no’ must be said by the victim, can lead to queer people thinking that what happened to them couldn’t have been assault
These are only a few of the unique barriers that AQSN identified, the rest can be found on their website (http://aqsn.weebly.com/). These barriers mean that queer students are constantly doubting that they will be taken seriously if they report harassment or assault, or wondering if they will be told if their experience ‘doesn’t count’, or if they simply won’t be believed because ‘two women can’t do that.’
Looking at a local level, UTas is not exempt from this discussion around treatment of queer students. Resources aimed at queer students who have been sexually harassed or assaulted are scarce. There are no counsellors specifically trained in queer issues. However, I hope things are looking up. A Queer Officer has just been appointed to the TUU as part of the SRC (South) who is also a non-functioning executive member of AQSN. They are passionate about getting our voices heard on a national level, and begin real change at UTas. There is a new reporting website in the works for students to report any sexual violence to authorities, safely. In addition to this, the #NeverOK campaign that was launched this year by the Tasmanian University Union is using gender neutral campaign material, and ensuring that inclusive resources are being promoted to students. While both of these things are a significant step in the right direction, a lot more work does need to be done.
But there is hope. We will continue to fight for better student services for queer victims and survivors. And to anyone reading this who is queer, and might be a victim or a survivor, please know: we are standing with you and we believe you.
If this article brings up any issues for you, contact 1800 RESPECT (1800 737 732) or visit 1800respect.org.au. They are the national sexual assault and domestic family violence counseling service.
If you have experienced sexual assault or harassment on campus, contact Campus Security
– Launceston (03) 6324 3336
– Hobart (03) 6226 7600
– Cradle Coast (03) 6324 3336
– Sydney 0402 696 321
In case of an emergency, call 000
The writer of this article has requested to be anonymous.