In March last year, I ended an 18-month relationship that had become a physical and emotional torment. Although more than a year has passed since then, the harsh reality is that I — like so many other women — have been harassed my whole life simply because I was born female.
In Year 5, I was a topic of conversation among my male classmates because I was the first girl in class to start wearing a training bra. They would snap my bra straps every chance they got.
In high school I was labelled a “slut” and “easy”, and had vicious rumours spread about me because I was in a relationship with someone a year above me.
During my first degree, I accepted an offer of a lift home from a classmate one afternoon, who then proceeded to tell me I had “voluptuous breasts”. When I rejected his advances he started to drive by my house on various occasions, stop by unannounced and try to give me gifts as an “apology”.
Whether it is inappropriate advances from a co-worker or classmate, unwelcome comments about your appearance or clothing, or being cat-called while on campus, this kind of behaviour — sexism or seeing women as inferior — has become the social norm.
According to the National Union of Student’s “Talk About it” survey, 73% of female university students have experienced sexual harassment or unwelcome sexual behaviour.
This is why it is important for us as students to come together to speak out on these issues and discuss how to deal with sexual assault and harassment on campus. To make a lasting change, real solutions will require real student input.
Western Sydney University’s Resistance Club is teaming up with students and staff to try to arrive at a more holistic approach to solving the problem of sexual harassment — casual or overt. We are hoping to start the discussion among students about the best ways of tackling the problem.
We understand that as part of the “Respect. Now. Always.” Program, data on sexual assaults and harassment is being collected on all universities, to be compiled into a report due to be released on August 1.
We want the WSU administration to guarantee it will release the data because it will play an important part in charting an adequate response to a problem that is still seen as secondary. We want to ensure that strategies and programs are devised to ensure that students on our campuses are safe from violence and harassment of any kind.
Resistance has come up with some proposals for this meeting to consider:
- A student-devised education campaign (possibly at the beginning of every semester, or every year) on the issues behind sexual violence and harassment, to be aimed at students and staff and translated into several languages;
- Having permanent trained specialist counsellors on all campuses at all times students are using the facilities;
- Mandatory staff awareness raising and training; and
- More lighting on the university.
By working together we can stamp out sexual assault and keep our campuses and students safe.
Josh Butler wrote an article in the Huffington Post Australia last year which points to the underlying reason driving violence against women in this society — sexism.
“Australia has a disturbingly high rate of violence against women, whether it be domestic and family violence, sexual assault or sexual harassment in the workplace. And the fact is, and the research is now indisputable, that gender inequality lies at the heart of much of this utterly unacceptable violence.”
We hope students can lead the shaping of the “Respect. Now. Always.” campaign to incorporate raising awareness about gender inequality, and the violence that is a product of a sexist system. By doing that we can help make campuses a safer space for women and everyone.
[Nathalie Jerez is a member of Resistance: Young Socialist Alliance and a student at Western Sydney University. She gave this talk at a WSU Resistance Club public meeting on May 27. Stay in touch with Resistance Club — Western Sydney University FB page.]