’90 years of sexual assault’: Who would send their kid to college?
The start of a new academic year is upon us, and once again residential colleges are in the news for all the wrong reasons.
Male students from the University of Sydney’s elite St John’s College are reportedly preparing for their annual tradition of humiliating women.
St John’s College, at the University of Sydney. Photo: Quentin Jones
Dubbed the “Fresher Five”, it’s a gathering of older male St John’s students to rate the first-year female students on how “f—able” they are and then brag to their mates about their sexual exploits.
As disgusting as this predatory behaviour towards women and girls — and, yes, some of them are indeed still girls — is, you could hardly call it a surprise.
Yesterday, Nina Funnell and Anna Hush from End Rape On Campus Australia released The Red Zone Report which details 90 years of sexual assault, harassment and alcohol-fuelled hazing rituals at the University of Sydney.
This comes in the wake of a report released last year by former sex discrimination commissioner Elizabeth Broderick into the culture of the university’s residential colleges, which revealed that one in four women reported sexual harassment, most of which occurred within their own college.
According to The Red Zone Report, one in 12 students at the university’s Women’s College will experience attempted or completed rape.
What is remarkable is why, given what we know, colleges like St John’s are still in business. Why would anyone send their child to live in a cesspit like St John’s?
Former sex discrimination commissioner Elizabeth Broderick, University of Sydney Vice Chancellor, Michael Spence and the head of the Women’s College, Amanda Bell. Photo: Peter Rae
Parents and guardians are deciding — and spending loads — to send daughters to live with a bunch of boys who refer to them as “JETS” – “Just Excuse The Slag”. These are places where, as one student in Broderick’s report said, “Fresher boys want to impress the older boys so they degrade the girls.” Other students reported, on occasion, being too afraid to leave their rooms.
And it’s not just St John’s that has a women problem. The Red Zone Report includes a case of male students from neighbouring St Andrew’s College masturbating into bottles of shampoo and body wash left in bathrooms by female students, so the women would inadvertently bathe in their semen.
St Andrew’s College at the University of Sydney. Photo: Jessica Hromas
Why would any one send their kid to a place where they’re likely to be hazed or sexually harassed?
It is not as if colleges like St John’s and St Andrew’s are last resorts. According to the St John’s website, a single room with en suite bathroom will set parents back $649 per week. And that doesn’t include all the extras such as application fees, registration fees and welcome packs.
People who can afford these fees are arguably among the most privileged in our society. They have options. And they choose to send their kids into a predatory swamp?
As for parents of sons, why on earth would you allow your teenage boy to be subjected to the pressure-cooker of peer pressure that systematically and, in some cases, criminally, degrades women? Aside from being a training ground for sexual harassers, college culture also subjects young men to dangerous and alarming hazing rituals and bulling.
Of course, this behaviour is not officially condoned by the colleges. The rector of St John’s College’s said in a statement to news.com.au, “If any student proposing to come to St John’s thinks that behaviour of the sort alleged is acceptable, they need to think again because this kind of behaviour is not accepted at St John’s College.”
But it’s hard to see this as anything but lip service given photos on social media of male students holding up women’s underwear as trophies.
Female students are under such threat that they’ve organised to defend their basic right for safety and dignity, forming an Equality Committee to advocate for reform.
The Red Zone Report states that “freshers and other students who attempt to speak out against the abuse are often ostracised”. And, in one case documented in the report, girls were gang raped as punishment for raising a complaint.
What makes the persistence of the “Fresher Five” ritual at St John’s more remarkable is that it has come amidst a cultural moment where there is more public attention than ever before on toxic masculinity across a whole range of spheres of life.
The fact that these men didn’t get the #metoo memo suggests they’re either oblivious or they just don’t care.
Maybe some parents are fooled by the colleges’ crafty sales pitches. All the talk on St John’s website of how it’s “warm sense of community nurtures the well-being and academic endeavours of St John’s students” would surely be music to an anxious parent’s ears. But a quick Google search will reveal that the lived experience of this “warm sense of community” is different from what parents might assume.
Another reason the colleges appear to be thriving in spite of these headlines is that they have status and prestige.
St John’s alumni include Tony Abbott and leaders in industry and the law. The culture of entitlement and the priceless networking opportunities it offers explain why it didn’t go out of business decades ago.
Sending daughters to a place where at least 25 per cent of them are likely to be sexually harassed, and an alarming number of sons will likely end up doing the harassing, lends implicit support to these institutions.
Surely all the prestige and networking opportunities in the world is not worth this.
Kasey Edwards is the author of Guilt Trip: My Quest To Leave The Baggage Behind.