The UWA O-Camps disclosure this week has lead to some serious questions regarding the roles and responsibilities of clubs and societies and student organisations in keeping women safe. If you’re not familiar with the events at UWA the Feminist Action Network (FAN) blogged yesterday for NUS Women’s and you can read it here.
The issue of women student’s safety in clubs and societies is something that the NUS Women’s Department has been concerned about many years. More recently, during O-Week at a Victorian University the department was approached with information about sexual assaults at student organisation run events and faculty club camps. The sexual assaults were of a serious nature but the women had chosen not to report them.
Following these disclosures the women’s department sought information from student organisation presidents about instances of harassment and assault at the events they run, the response was overwhelming. Almost every student organisation had at least one serious incident, almost every president wanted more information and resources.
It is important to note that these events and incidents do not occur in isolation, they occur as a result and a part of a culture which devalues women. Clubs and societies are just a microcosm of a wider societal values. Existing within these clubs are clear power differentials between those that run the clubs and new members, particularly first years.
These power differentials are even more pronounced on camps organised for first years during O-Week. Although it varies from university to university there is often very little oversight or training given to those who have an inordinate amount of power over others. People who run the camps take on the role of both leaders and peers, this gives them significant degrees of influence over those under their care. This power, coupled with the social isolation that can occur as a result of being seen as a ‘prude’ or a ‘chicken’ allows the leaders of the camps free reign over what sort of behavior is deemed acceptable and unacceptable.
Ignorance should not be misunderstood as maliciousness in these circumstances. Nor should all clubs be tarred with the same brush. The majority of young people charged with running clubs and societies do an excellent job and provide an important service. However, student organisations do need to do more to ensure that all clubs are required to undertake training. A continuing failure to do so is increasingly a failure in the duty of care student organisations have to their members- particularly in a post SSAF environment.
There are obvious reasons that the way clubs operate don’t change, particularly the ways that toxic clubs don’t change. Those who refuse to participate or dislike the way clubs are run are unlikely to continue to be involved in clubs. If you had a heap of fun getting wasted and having sex at Arts camp, you’re going to organise Arts camp the same way when you’re in charge
Before anyone jumps in and starts using this as an argument against the SSAF they need to take a moment to understand that not all clubs, o camps, o weeks and societies are like this. Not to mention that the solution comes within the organisation and who it affiliates to – NUS.
In conjunction with the South Eastern Center for Sexual Assault there will be a respectful relationships training designed especially for members of clubs and societies executives. This training, part of a wider resource called Safe Parties, Respectful Clubs and Societies, will be launched at NOWSA in July. This resource will not be a final step, it’s a beginning to be built upon within your student organisations to ensure that we can create a vibrant campus life that is accessible and safe for everyone to participate in.