Trigger warning for discussions of rape and sexual assault.
Louise hails from Queensland and Studies at the University of Queensland. She is the NUS Queensland State Environment Officer. She is a collector of tee-shirts and missing memories. However she is yet to learn how to vacate a shopping trolley without falling over.
My law lecturer made a rape joke while delivering a lecture to hundreds of students. Most of the
students laughed. That concerned me. But, I was equally concerned about the statistical certainty
that some of the students who laughed must have themselves been survivors of sexual assault.
When a well-respected professor from a sandstone university jokes about rape, he sends the
message that rape is a laughing matter. His voice is more powerful than most. His job is to teach us
about legal and ethical standards. By virtue of his position as a legal academic and student mentor,
this man had a responsibility to counteract rape culture, not perpetuate it.
My lecturer might not realise it, but his ‘joke’ has serious consequences. If rape is a laughing matter,
then committing rape is not serious. If rape is a laughing matter, then it is not worth reporting.
Thoughtless one-liners entrench frightening attitudes as easily as they win cheap laughs.
Statistics from this department’s Talk About It survey indicate that 1 in 10 respondents experienced
sexual assault while at university. The survey also found that, while 92% of respondents felt safe
on campus during the day, the number who felt safe on campus at night decreased to 24%. At my
university, the main campus is huge and surrounded by the Brisbane River, residential colleges,
and expanses of playing fields. In addition, there is a lack of security guards and the major bus and
ferry stops are on the edge of campus, surrounded by forested areas. It’s not difficult to understand
why students feel unsafe on campus at night. There’s absolutely no reason for the classroom to be
another unsafe space.
Aside from disgusting jokes, this course came with a trigger warning (of sorts). The lecturer warned
us that we’d be studying serious offences, such as sexual crimes and murder, in graphic detail. It
was impossible to pass the course without covering that content. He warned us, but no further
consideration was given to the matter. Students had the choice to sit through potentially triggering
lectures, or skip a lot of content and fail the course. It is ridiculous that some students would have to
relive their sexual assault in order to complete their law degree.
There are significant obstacles to changing the culture of a traditional, conservative, school in one of
Australia’s oldest universities. It might seem pretentious to say so on an NUS blog, but meaningful
change can only come from the students. Instead of laughing at his rape joke, this lecturer’s students
(including me) need to call him out on it. He’d tell me that ignorance of the law is no excuse when
the cops are bundling me in to the paddy wagon (‘oh officer, I had no idea it was illegal to stand
in the middle of Brunswick St drinking out of a bottle of Passion Pop’). I have to let him know that
we’re not studying criminal law to learn about serious offences in an abstract sense. His comments
endorse the idea that rape, the most serious of crimes, is no big deal. I have to tell him that
flippantness and ignorance are no excuse when it comes to rape culture.
NUS Queensland Sate Environment Officer