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Thursday, 18 December 2014 04:59 pm

Wellington Rape Crisis deplores sick Vic rape ‘jokes’

VICTORIA University students are embroiled in a row about rape jokes appearing in on-campus graffiti and on a student-run Facebook page.

Wellington Rape Crisis has spoken out against the student rape-related “humour” after jokes trivialising the crime appeared on the page, Overheard@vic.

It is particularly concerned about the posting of a photograph of graffiti on university property that said “I believe in rape”.

Rape Crisis agency manager Natalie Gousmett says the agency has worked with Victoria students who have been raped and  is disgusted by the graffiti and the picture, saying such humour is “completely disrespectful” to survivors. 

“Rape is actually happening up there,” she says. “We have quite a few clients who are students, and we work with students from Vic who are raped while they are at University.”

A criminology lecturer at Victoria agrees there is a problem, and that one of the origins of rape “humour” is the victim-blaming culture that is associated with sexual assault.

“We’re still seeing women as being the temptress and men being controlled by their d**ks and completely at the whim of their sexual urges,” says Associate Professor of Criminology Dr Jan Jordan (see further comments below).

Victoria University spokeswoman Maria Cobden says student safety is a key focus, and it has partnered with police and Wellington City Council to promote awareness of personal safety.

NewsWire monitored the page and found other incidences of rape-related “humour”, such as “you’ve got to rape the paper, man, you can’t let the paper rape you” and “at least ugly girls don’t get raped”. 

People have also posted replies like “Can some b**** make me a sandwich before I rape someone?!”

Ms Gousmett says that kind of humour trivialises the pain and trauma: “Rape has far-reaching effects and it’s not something to be joked about.”

The graffiti was also upsetting for students who frequent the Facebook page. For example, female honours student Sam, who demanded the picture be removed, says she was disgusted that somebody would post it.

“Overheard is meant to be something funny and light-hearted, but for some, obviously rape is funny for them. This picture was removed within about two hours.  However, it was up two hours too long.”

She says the graffiti (pictured left) is not an isolated incident and that rape jokes frequently make an appearance on the page. 

While there are many students who express anger at these remarks, others commenting on the Facebook page are nonchalant, brushing them off as “sarcasm”, “tongue-in-cheek” and “all in good humour”.

Victoria Students’ Association women’s officer Sara Bishop is appalled by the graffiti and says she “didn’t find it funny at all”.

Such dismissive attitudes reveal a need for heightened awareness of sexual assault among students. 

“We need to run things like consent workshops during [orientation] week. It’s really basic stuff. A lot of young people probably didn’t pick all this up during high school sex ed.”

However, despite the students’ association’s continued efforts to promote Wellington Rape Crisis’ services, raising awareness is an area where Victoria University is lacking, says Ms Bishop.

She says students’ association advocacy services have supported students who have been sexually assaulted on campus and referred them to Rape Crisis.

The association also organised a campus safety survey, in which 10% to15% of students indicated they had experienced stalking while on campus at night time.

“The results were recently passed on to Victoria management, but I’m not sure how much they’ll take into account,” says Ms Bishop.

She is aware Victoria’s halls of residence have “technically comprehensive” rules against sexual harassment, but is not sure how well these are policed.

Student Sam says she is not aware of any programmes initiated by Victoria to raise awareness of sexual assault, and believes the subject needs to be discussed more openly on campus.

“[We need] to educate people about what rape is really is and promote healthy sexual relationships between individuals”, she says.

“The US has an abundance of peer-facilitated risk-awareness training, such as drama skits about rape, which could be run [at Victoria] on a voluntary basis and would not be too costly.”

Victoria’s Maria Cobden says the university plans to use resources prepared by Rape Crisis as part of its Who Are You campaign for upcoming orientation events.

“In addition, our health and counselling staff deal with students on a one-on-one basis and liaise with appropriate agencies as required,” says Ms Cobden.

Regarding the safety of students at night time, she says that Victoria’s campuses have security personnel available 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

“We would urge any student who feels unsafe to contact those staff.”

At Rape Crisis, Ms Gousmett says the Wellington centre has run programmes for Victoria students in the past, which help them to gain more skills for negotiating consent in sexual situations.

She says the agency ran a sex and ethics programme last year for secondary and tertiary students, with support from the Ministry of Justice.
 
However, despite a positive evaluation, she says no further funding was allocated for the programme.

“Clearly, it wasn’t seen as a sustainable investment by the Government,” says Ms Gousmett.

A general lack of funding prevents Rape Crisis from providing a continuity of service.
 
“We need the Government to better recognise the services Rape Crisis provides. There is a real need, for both prevention and support services for survivors and loved ones.

“But we need funding for these services to be provided further.”

Rape jokes inspired by rape myths and victim blaming say experts

ONE of Victoria University’s lecturers says she has encountered victim blaming by students.

“I did a lecture for some second years about the rates of rape amongst students and asked why people thought they were so high,” says Associate Professor of Criminology at Victoria Dr Jan Jordan (right).

“One girl put her hand up and said, ‘Well, just look at the way they dress.’

“We’re still seeing women as being the temptress and men being controlled by their d**ks and completely at the whim of their sexual urges.”

There are also double standards in the student drinking culture.

“If a guy gets drunk and oversteps the mark, he’s not seen as a rapist. Alcohol excuses his offending. If a woman is raped while drinking heavily, she’s a drunken slag and she asked for it.”

Dr Jordan says there is an “historical hangover” behind the culture of suspicion around women and sexual assault, because of false rape accusations when women became pregnant outside marriage. 

She says suspicions also occur when women present with little or no evidence of physical trauma.

Rape survivors are more likely to show symptoms such as low self-esteem, nightmares, hyper vigilance, eating disorders and post-traumatic stress disorder.

Community lawyer Hannah Northover says rape mythology contributes to the very low rate of rape survivors currently in the justice system. 

This is partly due to fears that the rapist may not be found guilty or that the survivor could be is accused of lying in court she says.

“When a survivor is told she is believed, that makes a huge difference,” says Ms Northover, who works for Community Law Wellington and Hutt Valley. 

“Disclosing rape is such an emotional time. Every survivor needs to be told she is believed because of these myths. She just grows up in them.”

She is aware the Law Commission has undertaken work on alternative trial processes for sexual assault cases to ensure survivors are better supported while in court.

However, Minister of Justice Judith Collins has recently stated she does not intend for any more work to be done in this area.

“It’s very disappointing,” says Ms Northover. “It’s a real issue and it looked like there was some hope of moving towards solutions [for survivors].”

Dr Jordan believes further education by organisations such as Rape Crisis will help change attitudes to sexual assault, but she says a lack of government funding is preventing this.

“We’re still only giving token recognition to these groups. The state needs to provide these services with routine funding as at high level, but we’re a long way from that,” she says.

“We’ve adopted language around rape prevention, but the dollars haven’t followed. At the moment, there’s too much spent on Rugby World Cups and the Olympics and not on survivors of sexual violence.”

Wellington Rape Crisis agency manager Natalie Gousmett says rape humour is symptomatic of a disrespectful victim blaming culture that surrounds sexual assault and seems to be most often targeted at female survivors.

“There’s the idea that a woman deserved [to be raped] and there’s no focus on the perpetrator,” she says.

“That a woman’s behaviour can make her responsible for her rape is the biggest myth of all.”

She says the most common misconceptions are that a woman’s clothing can attract a rapist and that it does not constitute rape if the woman does not fight back.

She also says it is a commonly held belief that rapes are always committed by a stranger in a dark alley, when in fact 2010-2011 Rape Crisis statistics show just 3% of sexual assaults are by strangers.

“People don’t want to believe that it can happen to them, or to someone they love. They’d rather believe it only happens to people who bring it on themselves.”

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is a Whitireia journalism student, most passionate about the arts and social justice issues. Sometimes, she even combines the two.
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