It’s a subject matter that we are quick to avoid talking about. When they do occur, conversations around sexual assault, violence, and rape often address the issue in terms of blaming the victim. These problems are exposed in the US documentary The Hunting Ground, which exposes the institutional cover-ups, rape culture and victim-blaming across hundreds of educational institutions in the United States. The film speaks to many survivors of rape and sexual assault and finds out how their universities dismissed their claims and failed to protect them in the wake of their shocking experiences.
It might be easy to think that sexual assault, rape and violence aren’t as common in Australian universities, however the National Union of Students (NUS) ‘Talk About It’ survey, published earlier this year, found that 72 per cent of respondents had experienced some form of sexual harassment or unwelcome sexual behavior while studying. It’s a problem we need to address if our university is going to become a safe place for women.
While The Hunting Ground specifically talks about rape, sexual assault exists as a stepping stone towards this. Intimidation, touching, groping and stalking are all forms of violence that unreservedly endorse the subjugation of women. A common factor in these forms of sexual assault and violence is alcohol, often used as an excuse for the perpetrator, and a source of blame for the victim. We’d never accept alcohol as a justifying factor for someone who drives drunk. We should have the same expectation that sex without consent is rape, and a criminal offence.
Prevention of sexual assault, rape and violence needs to start at the source. Our NUS survey also found 98 per cent of perpetrators of sexual violence on campus in Australia are men. Men need to start to understand and embrace equal respect for women, we should embrace that women can choose to be partners in sex, have no obligation to do so and always continue to push an anti-violence agenda on campus.
The conversation needs to start in childhood and pervade education right through to adulthood. We need to teach girls and young women that they are not objects and they should never have any fear in refusing sexual advances from men. We need to teach boys and young men that respect for one another regardless of a person’s sex is the standard, and one that must be accepted in every part of life. In changing this conversation we can hope that in the future women will feel safe on campus.
The Hunting Ground will screen on the 17th of August at the Stanley Burbury lecture theatre at 6.30 for 7pm, followed by a panel to discuss sexual assault on campus in an Australian context.
To find out more about the events of Bluestocking week 2016 at UTas, click here.
If you or anyone you know requires support with regard to rape or sexual assault, please contact:
Call 1800 737 732
National counselling helpline for sexual assault, and domestic and family violence.
Clark Cooley is a member of the planning committee for Bluestocking Week 2016, State Branch President of the National Union of Students and a 3rd year full time Business/Arts student.