Culture

Campus Sexual Assault And Hazing Is Even Worse Than We Thought, According To A New Report

This week is the most dangerous week of the year on university campuses. This is why.

Content warning: This story contains graphic descriptions of sexual harassment and assault


A new report on sexual assault at Australian universities has prompted calls for hazing rituals to be criminalised, with experts describing the “graphic and detailed” evidence included in the report as “sickening reading”.

The report documents the culture of harassment at university residential colleges, including repeated instances of male students masturbating into female students’ shampoo and conditioner bottles, annual events where students are encouraged to share details of other students’ sexual activity, and traditions of older students ranking younger women and plying them with alcohol in order to have sex with them.

The report, released by advocacy group End Rape On Campus (EROC), is titled “The Red Zone Report” in reference to the name anti-sexual assault campaigners give Orientation Week due to the spike in sexual assault and harassment that occurs during this week. At the University of Sydney, for example, one-in-eight attempted or completed sexual assaults occurred during O-Week.

The evidence collected in the report goes well beyond sexual assault and harassment, and also includes detailed accounts of hazing rituals at residential university colleges. At St. John’s College at the University of Sydney, there are reports of red-headed male students being encouraged to set their pubic hair on fire to attain an unofficial leadership position, and of incoming students being locked in bathrooms while dead fish is thrown at them.

At a range of colleges, there were reports of faeces being smeared on walls and left in hallways, students being encouraged to drink excessively until they soiled themselves, and students being forced to eat like dogs, or consume a mixture of vomit and cow faeces. These traditions were not limited to the University of Sydney, but were documented at residential colleges at universities around the country, including members of the prestigious Group of Eight universities.

Lead author of the report, sexual assault advocate and journalist Nina Funnell, said that “today, we are standing with all survivors of sexual assault and hazing from all colleges around the country, but especially the Sydney University colleges”.

“We’ve been able to chart almost a century of abuse, hazing and vile conduct at these institutions,” she said. Co-author Anna Hush added that the report “shows that these poisonous cultures of violence and misogyny have been allowed to fester in these institutions for generations.”

“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.”

In the report, the parents of Stuart Kelly, a young man who took his own life several months after spending a single night at St. Paul’s college at the University of Sydney, call for a coronial inquest into their son’s death, saying they believe hazing and possible assault was behind his suicide. The report’s authors back the Kelly family’s call for an inquest, and say that “EROC Australia will be walking shoulder-to-shoulder with the Kelly’s on that journey.”

As harrowing as the details outlined in today’s report are, perhaps the most disturbing part is the authors’ acknowledgement that many of the traditions described above have been known to universities for years. The report cites numerous previous newspaper reports on abuse and harassment at residential colleges, including multiple recent stories from student journalists calling attention to the culture of abuse within the institutions they attend.

As the authors note, they’ve been able to document nearly a century of this behaviour. How much longer is it going to take to stop it?

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If you or someone you know is impacted by sexual assault, domestic or family violence call 1800RESPECT on 1800 737 732 or visit 1800RESPECT.org.auIn an emergency, call 000.

Men can access anonymous confidential telephone counselling to help to stop using violent and controlling behaviour through the Men’s Referral Service on 1300 766 491.