Sydney Uni Opens “Incredibly Wrong” Investigation Into Protests Against Anti-Rape Crisis Talk

"I've had to change my status in the electoral roll because I've been getting rape threats," Sydney University Wom*n's Officer Madeline Ward said.

Sydney University Bettina Arndt

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Sydney University is investigating the organisers of protests at sex therapist and anti-rape crisis speaker Bettina Arndt’s recent event, in order to determine whether they breached the student code of conduct by attempting to block students from attending the talk.

In a Facebook post published by Arndt, it was revealed that the university is seeking witnesses and video footage of the clash between protestors, police and event attendees ahead of the 11 September talk.

URGENT CALL TO ALL WITNESSES TO THE SYDNEY UNI PROTEST. Great news! The Uni is proceeding with an investigation of my…

Posted by Bettina Arndt on Saturday, 29 September 2018

“The Uni is proceeding with an investigation of my complaint against the protest organisers and has agreed that names of the witnesses will be treated as confidential,” Arndt wrote in a Facebook call-out to her supporters.

“The whole point of this exercise was to hold the protest organisers responsible for trying to shut down free speech and this is an important step forward making sure this happens,” she added.

Arndt also requested video footage from any students at the event.

Around 15 protestors, organised by the university’s student Wom*n’s Collective, turned up to the speaking event before it began and blockaded the entrance to Arndt’s talk before they were moved on by police. All students were able to attend the event once the protest was moved on.

Madeline Ward, one of two Wom*n’s officers, told Junkee that the investigation was “incredibly wrong”.

“I think the University of Sydney would be incredibly wrong to open an investigation against us,” she said. “I think that it would be a really concerning infringement on free speech.”

She said that her aim was not to prevent students from attending the event.

Arndt told Junkee that those attending her talk were “bullied, abused and had vile things said to them” by protestors. “They were physically harassed,” she said. “Some of them were pushed around, were thrown against the wall.”

Arndt also suggested that protest organisers weren’t supporting feminist principles by opposing an older, female commentator.

When asked whether it was contradictory to advocate for free speech while criticising protest movements, Arndt distinguished between protests and shut-down campaigns.

“You can demonstrate, you can express a point of view, you can chant outside,” she said. “But if you actively stop an audience from reaching a venue, and act in a violent, abusive way… that’s got nothing to do with supporting free speech.”

Arndt filed a complaint with the university based off their code of conduct, which states that students cannot unnecessarily or unreasonably prevent students from carrying out their “study, research or work” at the university. Arndt also complained that students were impeded from accessing the university’s resources, were involved in the harassment and bullying of other students, and failed to treat other students with respect, dignity and impartiality.

Arndt additionally proposed that the protestors had breached criminal law, and Sydney University’s bullying prevention policy.

Ward noted that she had been subject to abuse from Arndt’s supporters since the protest occurred.

“I’ve had to change my status in the electoral roll because I’ve been getting rape threats,” she said.

In an email received by Ward that had the subject “Bullying Bettina”, said that “as long as you keep thinking with/shouting out of your vile, vapid, vicious vaginas, you will ensure that your whole Sex [sic] is a loathsome laughingstock in terms of human empowerment and in terms of true Sexed [sic] equality.”

Last week, education minister Dan Tehan proposed a policy that would have student protestors foot the security costs they cause. According to Fairfax, Tehan raised the Arndt protests as an example of free speech being disrespected — Arndt paid a $272 bill for the security guard Sydney University hired ahead of her talk.

Sydney University confirmed that an investigation was underway, but would not comment further.