I was warned. In the Foreword of The Red Zone, a damning new report on bullying, harassment and abuse at residential colleges at Australian universities released today, Macquarie University Professor Catharine Lumby said it herself.
It is “sickening” to read.
“I had to put the document to one side at times to process the full extent of abuse and
assault that permeates our college and residential halls,” Lumby writes.
She also notes that the existence of The Red Zone itself is telling.
“[The] unveiling the truth of what lies behind college and residential walls has fallen to a group of brilliant and research led young women who make up the advocacy group End Rape on Campus Australia…. Yet I am also appalled that so much of the heavy lifting continues to be done by young women- who are at risk of, or who have actually experienced sexual assault – and in many cases their labour, skill and expertise continues to go unpaid.”
Led by Nina Funnell and Anna Hush, student advocacy group End Rape on Campus Australia researched, wrote and released the report on Monday to coincide with orientation week at universities around Australia.
Research shows that one in eight instances of sexual assault that takes place at Sydney University colleges happens in a single week: the ‘red zone’ known as ‘O-week’.
It is the most dangerous time to be a woman on a university campus.
— End Rape on Campus Australia (@EROCAustralia) February 22, 2018
“We don’t need a calendar to know when O Week is on” the Executive Officer of the NSW Rape Crisis Centre Karen Willis says. “We can tell every year from the spike in calls to our rape crisis service.”
This isn’t the first report EROC has authored on the subject of sexual assault at universities but Lumby says “it goes much further than any report to date. It gives a graphic and detailed account of bullying, harassment and assault in these residences.”
The 200 page report draws together information obtained through freedom of information requests, student interviews, police reports and academic research.
It also includes a timeline charting 90 years of media reports of scandals which have plagued the Sydney university colleges, including abusive, coercive and humiliating rituals dating back to at least the 1930’s.
This report was borne, in part, after Sydney University handed down its own report into college culture which was led by former sex discrimination commissioner, Elizabeth Broderick.
The Red Zone authors describe that report as ‘sanitized’ and ‘tokenistic’ and argue Broderick’s scope to investigate was limited by narrow terms of reference. It included very little testimony from survivors of abuse or past students.
By way of contrast, several victims of hazing and sexual assault have spoken on record in The Red Zone in detailed case studies.
“We’ve been able to chart almost a century of abuse, hazing and vile conduct at these institutions,” lead author Nina Funnell says. “Today we are standing with all survivors of sexual assault and hazing from all colleges around the country, but especially the Sydney University colleges.”
— Sharna Bremner (@sharnatweets) February 25, 2018
The Red Zone includes the police statements provided by Ralph and Kathy Kelly, the parents of Stuart Kelly, who allege that their son Stuart may have taken his life in July of 2016 after being hazed, and possibly sexually abused, at St Paul’s College at Sydney University.
They allege the college failed to properly investigate the circumstances leading up to Stuart’s death including being tormented over his role in the lock-out laws and alcohol being forced down his throat.
“We are backing the Kelly family’s firm demand for a coronial inquest into Stuart’s death and EROC Australia will be walking shoulder-to-shoulder with the Kellys on that journey,” Funnell says.
Stuart Kelly suicided six months after he spent one night at St Paul's college: https://t.co/LxqmYnhzjj (via the formidable @ninafunnell @_annahush and @sharnatweets at @EROCAustralia) pic.twitter.com/tjGacVtydX
— Rachel Eddie (@heyracheddie) February 25, 2018
The Red Zone is nothing short of harrowing. It matters little that this subject matter – the vile and depraved rituals and practices that take place in these ‘esteemed’ residences on Australian university campuses – have been reported on for decades.
The fact male students at a Sydney college have been masturbating into female students’ shampoo, conditioner or body wash so that women unknowingly wash their hair with semen, is no less shocking on account of knowing that a group of students from another college once set up a Pro-Rape Facebook page.
Being aware of the existence of horrific ‘hazing’ practices does not render the fact students have been forced to drink their own vomit or roll around in rotting fish anymore palatable.
The Red Zone makes explicitly clear that there is a toxic, misogynistic culture in too many residential colleges that has – and will – wreak irreparable damage on too many students.
And it isn’t limited to one univeristy.
The report provides evidence of abusive practices at the colleges of Group of Eight universities, including the University of Melbourne, Monash University, UNSW, Australian National University, University of Western Australia and University of Queensland. (In regard to The University of Adelaide the residential colleges in South Australia are independent and privately run institutions. There is evidence of abusive practices at some of these colleges but these residents come from all three South Australian universities.)
The residential colleges are not on the universities’ campuses, they are in a different part of the city of Adelaide.
It also includes case studies of scandals at James Cook University, Macquarie University, University of New England and Newcastle University.
“The Red Zone Report shows that these poisonous cultures of violence and misogyny have been allowed to fester in these institutions for generations,” co-author Anna Hush says. “These traditions are ingrained in the very fabric of college life – nothing short of an overhaul of the entire college system will effectively address these problems.”
The Red Zone makes a number of recommendations for change, including calling for anti-hazing laws in all states and territories, a federal task force to investigate sexual violence at Australian residential colleges, and a review of the state legislation governing the colleges at Sydney University.