Tag Archives: O Camps

Baby kings and ‘sluts’ – the danger of O-Camps, clubs and societies and unchecked power

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.  

Why don’t you, “find out about these camps yourself instead of listening to rumours freshers have blown out of proportion” A feminist story from the UWA Scandal, 48 hours of hell

Written by members of the Feminist Action Network and The University of Western Australia,

The last 48 hours have been a nightmare.

On Friday, the Feminist Action Network was compelled to issue a press release in response to this article, and this one, and the front page article we knew would run in The Weekend West. So what’s this all about?

Allegations have emerged that

Scratch that. We’re not buying into this ‘allegation’ crap. The media has published horrendous details about what one student has encountered at orientation camp. They based their reports on information obtained under the Freedom of Information Act and directly from student statements. You can read some of the details here.

Our media release was met with a barrage of comments criticizing FAN from every available angle and we feel we need to respond. One critic urged us to “find out about these camps yourself instead of listening to rumors freshers have blown out of proportion”. Well, now that you mentioned it, we have interviewed a friend about her experiences at O’Camp in 2010. Our friend verified all of the details the media had published and recalled how she was supervised by male leaders that poured goon on her while she showered. She also told us about the ‘taco game’ in which male students ate tuna from a taco that was placed between a woman’s legs.

Need further proof? The Talk About It Survey, released in 2011, questioned over 1500 women on their perceptions of safety, their experiences of sexual harassment and assault and their experiences of how it was dealt with once it was reported. 67% of respondents said they had an unwanted sexual experience. Only 3% of those respondents had reported it to the university and only 2% had reported it to the police.

Surely, in the face of so much evidence, we can accept that university club culture is fostering unsafe environments for students. Surely we can also accept that, since women are disproportionately affected by sexual harassment and violence, that female students are particularly at risk. Apparently not. Having moved on from denying the allegations our critics have turned to blaming the victims: “As sordid as these allegations may be, they are between people who are supposedly mature enough to give consent. Their choice to pursue such actions is their own”

OK then. Let’s play devil’s advocate for a moment here and return to our interview with our friend.

FAN: Did you feel like you could leave the camp?

That would involve asking the people who had been pressuring you to participate in the activities I hadn’t been comfortable with. I didn’t feel comfortable doing that and I know others didn’t either.

FAN: Why didn’t you refuse to participate?

As a fresher I thought maybe this was what University life was like. I didn’t want to not fit in. The circumstances, the environment and the pressure to participate – students were ridiculed if they refused to participate or decided to go home – I didn’t want to make myself vulnerable to attacks. In the circumstances it seemed like the best thing was to just go along with it.

I know there was girl in my group who decided to leave the camp. After she left she was named and shamed and made fun of. She was the butt of all jokes and when we started university everyone knew who she was and that she had “pussied out”.

We are so tempted to respond to the myriad of other criticisms from, “nothing about sexual assault is sexist” to “mad hippie bitches burnin bras” but let’s pick our battles and turn to this one: “Why has FAN chosen to only speak out only after this flimsy West beat-up?”

Glad you asked. FAN has been agitating for O’Camp reform for months. We have strategies. We have shared our concerns with council. We have met with other students well placed to demand reform. However, it is only now, after the story has broken, that we can share these concerns publicly.

And right now, our foremost concern is for the women who have been harassed or assaulted and are having to read the vitriol on our page. The Feminist Action Network is a collective. We can support each other. We can take it on the chin. But the individuals who have had an unwanted sexual experience should not have to read this.

We cannot address what we won’t acknowledge. We can blame the media, we can blame the victims, and we can pass it all off as bullshit. Or we can take a serious look at our campus culture, and at the data available from surveys like Talk About It, and we can try to move forward.

Our own VC has acknowledged that “there is a pattern of behavior here” and FAN wholeheartedly agrees. We are drafting policy documents, motions for council, networking with supporters and just trying to keep our heads above water. And we will not back down until this pattern is undone.

FAN is a feminist group on campus. You can ‘like’ their Facebook here and head over to their website here