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April 9, 2019 | by  | in News |
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In Brief: Sexual Assault and Rape Went Undisciplined at Knox College

CW: Sexual Assault, Sexual Harrassment, Mental Illness

Sexual assault is an issue of growing concern in New Zealand, especially for university students. A recent investigation conducted by Esme Hall and Charlie O’Mannin at Otago student magazine, Critic Te Arohi, brought the issue into the national consciousness again.

 

The investigation revealed that the prestigious Otago Hall of Residence, Knox College, failed to appropriately deal with numerous cases of sexual assault, as well as the alleged culture that encourages and permits it.

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Sexual Assault “Brushed Off” by College Leadership

Knox resident Anne* came forward in 2016 to report repeated sexual harassment and rape from a fellow resident.

 

After taking her case to the Deputy Master, her complaints were “brushed off”, and were not passed onto the hall’s Master. When Anne finally complained to the Master directly, they considered the event an “isolated issue”.

 

“It seemed as if the reputation of the college mattered more to them than the comfort and safety of their students,” Anne told Critic.

 

‘Upsetting’ Handling of Sexual Violence by College Leadership

2016 also saw Alexis* and a group of other girls go to the Deputy Master with complaints about a serial sexual harasser.

 

Current Master Graham Redding told Critic that survivors were given a range of options to help resolve the issue, but it was left to survivors herself to make a decision on what action should be taken.

 

However, an RA said that residents rarely picked more significant actions for fear of “rocking the boat,” choosing mostly mediation or apology options.

 

An Otago spokesperson said that the university would not expect survivors to make determinations on more severe penalties such as exclusion.

 

Resident Felt Silenced Through Two Sexual Assaults

Knox resident Talia* was sexually assaulted in both 2015 and 2016. Following an incident in 2015 where another resident entered her room and attempted to have sex with her, Talia was dissuaded from reporting the incident by other residents.

 

“So far as anyone was concerned this was normal,” she said.

 

In 2016, Talia was sexually assaulted again. She was deterred once more, not reporting the incident as she thought that the residents and RAs in the hall would judge her for her own “naivety”.

 

Additionally, she “didn’t feel the [female] deputy master was approachable”.

 

“I couldn’t leave my room for days because I was afraid of that sort of thing happening again … nobody noticed.”

 

“Casual Misogyny” Creates “Toxic” Environment for Residents

2017 resident Lizzy* identified a number of incidents and practices at Knox which demonstrated the casually misogynistic culture of the hall.

 

Examples included men “rating” women in the hall, regular groping, and dismissiveness and hostility when such behaviour was challenged.

 

“I felt lucky that I escaped the worst. I wasn’t raped or assaulted. I just got used to being scared or uncomfortable all the time.”

 

“I shouldn’t feel lucky,” she said.

 

A Tradition of Sexism

Numerous traditions at Knox appear to be key issues in producing such a culture at the hall. Many of them have been maintained by the Student Executive, a group composed of second-year residents.

Practices include events where male residents tag women with lewd messages, the now-defunct weekly reading-out of residents’ sexual exploits, and the declaration of ‘student groups’—including a group for promiscuous female residents.

 

One resident said men were encouraged to sleep with these women throughout the year.

 

Another tradition is the “dodgy as fuck” Date Night, where popular second-year boys selected attractive first-year girls to go on dates. A former resident said these men were “definitely trying to get girls drunk to get them back to their rooms”. Another resident echoed this, and added, “It’s pretty much a vehicle for the second year guys to have power over the freshers.”

 

Master Graham Redding said steps had been taken to curb sexually predatory behaviour at date night events.

 

End-of-year awards were also raised as an issue. Several awards have been historically given out, including the “Knox Bike” awards, given to the male and female residents who have had the most sex throughout the year.

 

Although Redding said the Knox Bike awards are being reviewed, they are still awarded at the end-of-year event.

 

Former residents said these sexist traditions created a sense of entitlement among male students that was mostly ignored by college management.

 

College Leadership Working Toward Change, but Students Want More

Eight years ago, in 2011, Knox College underwent a review by the Presbyterian Church and the University of Otago, triggering a comprehensive “process of cultural change”.

 

Since beginning as Master at Knox, Redding said that he was continuing these changes in a “collaborative and incremental” way, rather than imposing a “stricter regime” that could strengthen the harmful behaviour.

Knox RAs now undergo ten days of training, and earlier this year, returning Knox residents took part in a bystander workshop.

 

Some former residents still expressed concern, however. One commented that “it would be good if the Master and Deputy Master were a bit more informed. There are things that they don’t know.”

 

2017 resident Lizzy* said she would “like to see disgusting traditions end as they’re derogatory for everyone involved” but are just backed by students because of ‘tradition’.

 

“Things can change and that can be really good,” she concluded.

 

*Names changed.

***

 

If you require support following a sexual assault, a number of services are available:

*VUWSA Advocate* | Erica Schouten | 04 463 6984 | advocate@vuwsa.org.nz

*Mauri Ora Student Health* | 04 463 5308 (Kelburn) | 04 463 7474 (Pipitea)

*Mauri Ora Student Counselling | 04 463 5310

*VUW Student Interest Team* | 04 463 5023 | student.interest@vuw.ac.nz

*Safe to Talk* Sexual Harm 24/7 Helpline | Call 0800 044 334 or text 4334 | support@safetotalk.nz

*Wellington Sexual Abuse HELP* 24/7 Crisis Support Line | 04 801 6655 (Push 0 at menu) | support@wellingtonhelp.org.nz

*Wellington Rape Crisis* | 04 801 8973 | support@wellingtonrapecrisis.org.nz

*MOSAIC: Male Survivors of Sexual Abuse*

*Support Line*: Call or txt 022 419 3416 | enquiries@mosaic-wgtn.org.nz

Call *111* in an emergency.

 

More information can be found in the VUWSA offices and website.

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