Saturday, June 2, 2012

Confronting rape culture at University of Western Australia

Feminists caused a stir at the University of Western Australia (UWA) this week when posters and stickers appeared around the campus on May 31. Declaring “rape jokes are hate speech,” the posters and stickers were hard to miss.

A sign with the same message appeared on a statue in the Swan River close to the campus.

The same day, the main social club on campus was to hold a party to “celebrate and commemorate the contemporary culture of our fair university/city (As seen on PerthNow).” The reference was to the publication on Perth Now of reports of sexual harassment and assault at a campus orientation camp at the beginning of the year.

The Facebook event page urged people to “Come as a journalist, a feminist, a uni hooligan or anything else that springs to mind when you think of Perth,Now!” – prompting postings like “I’ll cum as a rapist” and “the only way to cum” along with a plethora of other comments purportedly joking about the whole issue.

An activist with the UWA-based Feminist Action Network (FAN) spoke at a May 30 Socialist Alliance forum on women’s rights. She gave a first-hand account of the experiences of women at UWA orientation camps, and the coercion into drinking excessively and participating in humiliating sexual “games”.

She described invasive activities (like male leaders entering the bathrooms and looking at women while they were showering and pouring wine over them) and an atmosphere that led many women to fear they would be forced into having sex against their will. She explained the resistance of the university administration, student guild leadership and responsible club and to take a stand against such behaviour.

In a positive sign, on May 30 the student guild did pass FAN’s motion to establish a working party to deal with the issues of safety on campus and at campus parties.

[This article by Kamala Emanuel was submitted to Green Left Weekly.]