Monday, November 09, 2009

Pro Rape Culture At University of Sydney And Those Who Oppose It

Note: Trigger warning for graphic and violent language used by university students.

I am including what can be triggering because excluding it would soften the unacceptable reality and once reality is softened it becomes easier for many people to deny.

I will begin by highlighting the portion of the article in the Sydney Morning Herald about how some colleges and college leaders in Sydney are recognizing the scope of pro-rape beliefs, the related sexual violence and how the actions of administrators relate to this violence.

Of course, not everyone experiences college life in this way [with sexual violence]. Many thrive on it and love the social life, the instant family that residential living creates. ''Friends for life'' is often used to describe the most valuable, tangible thing many get out of college. Many more will experience outrage and disbelief reading this article, such is the faith in the inherent goodness of college.

Yet behind the scenes there is deep concern about a culture that at times appears out of control. As the outgoing master of Wesley College, David Russell, says: ''These places generate and perpetuate a form of tribalism, which could be and is probably well described as sexist.''
When people resort to denial to maintain their desired image of college life they are working directly against everyone having this type of experience.

While the culture described by Russell may be out of the administration's control that doesn't mean the behavior itself is truly out of control or that the administration is powerless to do anything about this behavior.

Whenever tribalism is involved in violence that is by its very nature a cohesive behavior. What is called tribalism is often a view where others are viewed as outsiders who will not be treated according to the intratribe rules. If this tribalism is sexist that means girls and women are viewed as outside the tribe and therefore beyond the protection of the tribe. Too often this belief system goes far beyond not protecting certain people and instead glorifies harming them.

This contradicts the idea that violent behavior is out of control behavior. This is more than semantics. It is important knowledge needed by those who are serious about preventing violence.
If the assailant is a Wesley boy, he is not invited back to the college next semester, Russell says.

''In 2007 there were a number of boys who were not invited back … They sit in front of me and lie to my face about certain behaviours, and I hear from police reports and other sources completely different stories and I say, 'Sorry you are not coming back.' ''

The new master of Wesley College - its first female master - Lisa Sutherland, says she plans to tackle the problem head on. ''That is what I will be doing from day one. It is hard … You can be winning the battle and you have a whole new group come in and you almost have to start again.''
This incoming master's statement might seem too severe to some. To understand why it is not, I will quote from earlier in this article. (trigger warning)

'They can't say no with a c--k in their mouth'' read the hand-drawn graffiti in the Salisbury Bar, part of St Paul's residential college on the University of Sydney campus. It has since been painted over, but the sentiment remains.
This attitude which boldly celebrates rape while simultaneously expressing disdain for women is why college administrators in Sydney must not wait for the next assault. While this type of graffiti sends a clear message that message is often dismissed because offensive graffiti has been normalized and is often dismissed as meaningless. When the content of this graffiti becomes public it is often dismissed as reflecting only on 1 individual in 1 isolated moment.

This can change when the graffiti and the ideas behind that graffiti moves online.

Some students and alumni at the University of Sydney's St. Paul College all-male school were members of an anti-consent pro-rape Facebook group which Facebook allowed to stay up for months. St. Paul College is described as an elite school, but this Facebook page turns elite from a compliment into an insult. The terms anti-consent, pro-rape are not tags given to this group by their critics, but tags chosen by those in control of the group.

The attitudes expressed by the graffiti and the Facebook group are why those who take immediate action make serious mistakes when they focus on the behavior of women college students who are seen as most vulnerable. These lectures directed at women reinforce entrenched and dangerous negative attitudes held by those who commit this type of violence and by those who tolerate this type of violence.

When women are told to change their behavior while men are told nothing about their harmful and likely illegal behavior this positions the women who have been raped as being in the wrong while the men who rape them are positioned, through silence or systematic failures, as being in the right in the minds of those who approve of rape or view victims as being responsible for what others do to them.

Any educational effort needs to focus on teaching all students enough about violent behavior so that all students can realize when words or actions are supporting violence or indicating a willingness to be violent and understand that these words or actions will not be tolerated and those who support harming others must change or leave.
Russell says there is disagreement between colleges about the inter-college harassment policy, and that one college in particular is quick to reach for a legal team to get its boys out of trouble rather than force them to face the consequences.

Indeed, the only college to respond to the Herald's inquiries via a letter from its lawyers was St Paul's College.
This is a systematic attitude which many people don't recognize or haven't been shown clearly. As more of us around the globe demand that colleges and other organizations address this type of violence in their midst the responses or lack of responses will communicate where different administrations really stand.

Since St. Paul is described as an elite college many of those students who support violence against women are likely to move into powerful positions and they are unlikely to grow out of the core pro-rape beliefs even if they discard specific actions when they graduate from college.

This has practical ramifications for all of Australia. If a judge as a student wrote pro-rape graffiti, which reflects on the actions that man took against women, he takes that with him to the bench. When that judge is assigned a sexual assault case which reflects his college behavior the judge is unlikely to fully support the law.

Boys are not born to be rapists and sexual predators, they learn to rationalize this behavior and when rapists are protected officially or unofficially this helps the next batch of boys or men who have not yet crossed the line into sexual assault to do so and to be praised or protected by the previous batch of rapists.

Sometimes diplomatic approaches in efforts to prevent violence are best, but sometimes the only appropriate response which will be taken seriously by those standing in the way of primary prevention is intolerance of everything which support rape or rapists.

For those outside of the college administration this may include lawsuits against institutions which maintain a hostile environment for women and a welcoming environment for rapists. Some people will only stop harmful practices when failing to stop them leads to serious and negative consequences.

Those who don't like any non-diplomatic approach need to either not be taken seriously when they complain or they need to work to find a more effective approach which reduces this type of violence.

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posted by Marcella Chester @ 9:04 AM   2 comments links to this post


At November 10, 2009 3:47 AM, Blogger paul said...

here here i am a lecturer at this uni and a male, its vile, but not surprising, there used to ba a strong feminist presence at uni's here but they seem invisible compared with 20 years ago........these bastards need to be kicked out

At November 16, 2009 10:32 AM, Anonymous kris said...

I was horrified to read not only about the reports of the pro-rape facebook page and the on-campus assaults but, to me even more damning, the reply of the college head to these charges.

Could he have been any more dismissive of the charges and reports? I don't think so. His reply actually solidified in my mind the truth of these young men's behavior.

It is obvious why they felt that their behavior was acceptable. No matter what the "official policy' is, it is clear that there is an unspoken culture of acceptance and turning a blind eye to the "shenanigans" of 'our young men".

I hold the head of the school ultimately responsible for all that has taken place.


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