Red Zone report exposes toxic culture at Australian residential colleges
Content warnings: Sexual assault, sexual harassment, suicide, animal cruelty
Student advocacy group End Rape on Campus Australia (EROC) has today released a 200-page report entitled “The Red Zone”, exposing detailed accounts of sexual harassment, assault, and hazing rituals at university colleges across Australia.
The report, written by Walkley award-winning journalist Nina Funnell and EROC ambassador Anna Hush, was compiled with no external funding in response to the perceived failures of the 2017 Broderick report into residential colleges. The title of the report refers to the first week of university; the week that the highest amount of attempted and actual sexual assaults occur on university campuses, and that college hazing is most prevalent.
EROC ambassador and report co-author Anna Hush stated, “In the report, we tried to foreground the social and cultural context of the colleges that we think enables this kind of violence and abuse to occur. In particular, the wealth and tradition that surround many of the colleges shields them from scrutiny, and allows hazing traditions to continue unchecked.”
“They are also heavily masculine spaces, where men hold a position of social power. We wanted to analyse how these aspects contribute to a toxic college culture, in a way that hasn’t really been done in previous reports.”
The report details cases of horrific hazing. Several of these are male students masturbating into shampoo and conditioner bottles to later be used by female students, faeces smeared on the walls of residential hallways and in common rooms, students being forced to swallow live goldfish, and first-year students being locked in bathrooms while having dead fish thrown on them.
These hazing rituals have far-ranging consequences. The parents of Stuart Kelly, brother of one-punch victim Thomas, believe Stuart’s suicide six months after his first and only night at St Paul’s College was linked to orientation week hazing, or even a possible sexual assault.
It’s this toxic culture that nearly 90 pages of the 200-page report attempts to uncover. The authors have combed media sources, spoken to former college students, and studied other reports (including the AHRC’s historic 2017 report into sexual assault and harassment on university campuses), to put together a history of college culture that has never been explored so in depth.
The numbers are damning. One in eight sexual assaults at Sydney University happen during orientation week. One in 12 college students have witnessed an actual or attempted sexual assault. One in 17 have experienced actual or attempted sexual assault. Those who have these experiences, whether at Sydney University or elsewhere, often don’t know what avenues are available for them to seek help or report their experiences. This is particularly relevant for international students, as they are statistically most likely to be assaulted within their first month of arrival in Australia, as well as facing potential cultural and language barriers.
The report writers believe that the toxic culture of college needs a complete overhaul. Key recommendations for reform are the setting up of a federal government taskforce into sexual harassment and assault at residential colleges, criminalising hazing practices, and reviewing the state legislative framework for the colleges, which currently provides them autonomy without university oversight. Hush believes the latter is the most important recommendation for reform. “This legislation gives old boys’ networks a huge amount of power over college affairs, and I think it’s critical to address this if we’re going to see changes in college culture”, she stated.
Other recommendations include a coronial inquest into the death of Stuart Kelly, feeder schools no longer promoting colleges to their students, and improving transparency processes amongst colleges and universities.
Hush believes, “The most urgent recommendation…is for the colleges to commit to greater transparency and accountability about what’s happening within their own communities. I think this is the first step towards seeing a shift in rates of sexual assault, harassment and hazing, because the institutional insularity of colleges is a huge part of the problem.”
The full End Rape on Campus report will be released to the public on Wednesday at http://www.endrapeoncampusau.org/