Vol 12, Issue 4
Content Warning: Sexual Assault
Last week I made the mistake of reading an Andrew Bolt article (link below) about the
University Sexual Assault Report being a “fraud”. As expected, it sent me into a rage about how the media of the socially conservative right seem to misunderstand the policy, law and symbolic justice behind the Report. So here is a feminist perspective clearing up a few things based on Andrew Bolt’s critique (for other conservative perspectives see Bettina Arndt, Mark Latham and Janet Albrechtson).
Bolt claimed that 51% of students being harassed is unlikely and remote, and that it is nearly 30 times that of “violent” South Africa (not sure why he felt a need to do an irrelevant jurisdictional comparison to a country of a completely different culture, but hey you do you). He probably never researched the nature of statistics and conducting research since he usually just does trash opinion pieces. But it is well known that sexual assault and rape are severely underreported crimes and frequently associated with grey statistics. The associations of shame for the victim, social humiliation and a loss of control lead to a lot of people staying silent. It is likely that 51% of University students are sexually harassed, particularly in an anonymous survey where students’ identities were protected so that they felt safe coming forward.
He also had a problem with none of the claims being tested or that only ‘motivated’ students such as social justice or identity warriors would respond, implicit in these comments are allegations of fabricated experiences. As I said earlier, making the face to face complaint for victims is really hard, and honestly if they are not wanting to make a complaint for those personal reasons, why the heck would they do a survey that would test their allegations? When someone calls police for an alleged sexual assault the usual process is: the police arrive and they recount the story to them, then usually the Sexual Offences and Child Abuse Investigations Team arrives and they do it all over again, and then, if needed for DNA testing, they explain it to the forensics team, and then they are usually referred to the Centre Against Sexual Assault or one of their equivalents for mental health care. That is 3-4 different recounts an alleged victim does in the investigation stage alone. Not to mention if it has to go to trial, that the victim would be cross-examined and asked questions in an extremely sensitive and emotional state suggesting they are a liar, “mixed up” or just “confused”. Don’t get me wrong, I am not saying that all alleged complaints should not be tested, or that they should all be taken at face value. But the entire point of this survey was to better understand student experience in an anonymous way that accounted for this, to emblematically encapsulate a rape culture entrenched with various power dynamics throughout Australian Universities. So no Bolt, I do not care that some students didn’t bother responding – and you know why? Because it wasn’t for them, it was to give students a safe space and voice to express these experiences and show an entrenched social problem that needs addressing.
Probably the most painful points in his article were his problems with the survey’s definition of sexual assault: that it included inappropriate staring or leering, sexually suggestive jokes, inappropriate displays of the body and being tricked into sexual acts against their will or without/withdrawn consent (like you know, the definition of rape). Sexual crimes under the Criminal Code and Equal Opportunity Act 2010 include:
So if he has a problem with the way the Report defined sexual harassment, he literally has a problem with the current state of law and how it operates in the ‘testing of claims’ he so desperately called for. So maybe instead of using his opinion pieces to constantly attack the HRC he can have a go at the Victorian Legislature.
Bolt also raised the point that only 1.6% of the incidents occurred on or in transit to campus to imply that universities should not be liable however university policy, tort law or the events being off campus but run by the university or their affiliated student associations would all impact on their liability. In defending universities, Bolt said universities earn us $20 billion a year, I honestly could not give a crap if they earned us $100 billion a year, no amount of money justifies altering their duty of care or discounting experiences of sexual assault/harassment. I have no idea why he brought money into something that is clearly irrelevant to it.
Paraphrasing his own words: Bolt’s article is a disgrace. The failure to educate himself on the law, legal processes and culturally relevant facts shows why he only writes opinion pieces.
Scrap ignorance. And read the HRC’s footnotes before launching uneducated attacks.
Gabrielle Verhagen is a third-year JD student. This article was written in her personal capacity.
Andrew Bolt's original article can be found here
More articles like this:
The rest of this issue: