Tag Archives: Talk About It

The sad thing is…


Last week in  an interview with a journalist about O’weeks, Colleges and sexual assault I was posed with a question that has really had me on edge since it happened and I haven’t felt comfortable about it since.

The question was not meant to upset me, or make me uncomfortable and probably won’t even be used in the article. Well really it wasn’t the question that upset me it was my answer.

The interview went down the path of what was said to be one of the O’Week tasks for first year girls at a certain college- 5 sexual acts, 5 different guys, 5 consecutive days. The question was ‘Does it shock you that this kind of thing is happening?’ my answer was ‘no. No It doesn’t’.

If she had asked me if it outraged me I would have said of course its down right disgusting.

If she had asked me if it upset me I would have said Incredibly these are young women being peer pressured into engaging in sexual activity, anyone with a moral compass would  be upset.

If she asked me if it repulsed me I would have said more than I can find the words to explain.

But she didn’t, so I answered her question. Then said all of these things.  And the sad thing is I don’t think any Women’s Officer would be shocked to hear it appalled, outraged, disgusted, upset yes but not shocked.

I haven’t been able to get this out of my head since, and I think that it is important that we don’t forget that these things are still happening, dont put dealing with them in the to hard basket, say that colleges are just out of our reach or we can’t make the change in the 12 month term. But realise that the campaigns we run and in particular Talk About It are really important, they can and do help young women who are being abused, pressured and harassed. They do force Universities, Colleges and Government to take action.

So in a round about way I really want to encourage you all to fill out Talk About It and make sure that you get everyone you can to fill it out so we have an accurate and all encompassing report on these issues.

I also wanted to share my little story because while its just a little thing that to many may seem insignificant it helped put things into perspective, and give me a kick up the arse to figure out how to fix the problem.

You can find the survey here

Mikaela Wangmann

National Women’s Officer 2013

The Talk About It Interviews: Keelia Fitzpatrick

Talk About It Questions:Image

Name: Keelia Fitzpatrick 

What year were you NUS Women’s Officer? 2010

You created the Talk About It Survey in 2010, what made you decide to do it? The events that took place at St Paul’s College (University of Sydney) in late 2009 were alarming and received widespread media coverage – deservedly. However, they did not push campus safety to becoming a priority for higher education stakeholders as we had hoped and expected. Instead the ‘isolated event perpetrated by rogue individuals’ line was given and things moved on. The fact that sexual harassment and assault is widespread and, in many cases, culturally embedded within parts of universities was ignored. It became clear that in order to force universities to take meaningful action on campus safety we needed data and stories from across the country that illustrated that St Paul’s was far from an isolated event. We took inspiration and guidance from NUS UK’s 2009 ‘Hidden Marks’ survey.

Were you surprised with how much traction was able to be gained around the issue of women’s safety after the release of the survey?

The traction was exactly what we were after. The survey findings were not particularly surprising to many women’s officers and student representatives (or those familiar with campus culture and the safety mechanisms that existed) but nevertheless they were the data and stories we needed to get decision makers to sit up and take notice.  NUS is not a research institute, but its strength lies in its student networks and strong alliances with other organisations. Talk About It and the Safe Universities Blueprint are testament to these strengths.

What do you think should be changed about Talk About It when it’s run in 2012?

 I didn’t have any budget for the project, so all of the promotion was done online (with the help of campus networks) in quite a short space of time. For me the survey is all about engagement, so I think prioritising outreach to as many women students (with a diversity of backgrounds and experiences) as possible is paramount. I look forward to seeing a bigger, better and more influential Talk About It in 2012. 

What achievement or campaign are you most proud of?

Abbott’s Heaven, Your Hell was bold, colourful and everywhere. It was also really important. The danger that Tony Abbott poses to the autonomy and equality of Australian women should not be taken lightly. The campaign delivered this message through a variety of mediums and engaged students who don’t normally have much to do with NUS.

 When you were women’s officer what couldn’t you leave the house without?

I wish I could say my copies of Rules for Radicals and The Second Sex, but really it was my mobile and laptop.

 What are you doing now?

 I am in the final weeks of my Arts/Law degrees and working in the union movement.

 What message would you give to young women thinking about getting involved in the student women’s movement?

Feminism is a vibrant and diverse movement that questions and challenges inequality, power structures and culture. Exploring its ideas and fighting for its causes is an empowering, educative and invaluable experience. Make sure you support your fellow activists. I strongly subscribe to Madeleine Albright’s philosophy that ‘There is a special place in hell for women who don’t help other women’.

Would you do it all again? Yes, but with a few caveats attached.

If you want to get more involved with Talk About It before it is launched on the 17th of August 2012 send an email to womens@nus.asn.au


Interview: Kaitlin Ferris



What Year were you NUS Women’s Officer?


What was the biggest issue for women student’s the year you were women’s officer?

This is a really difficult question.

The issue which perhaps was central and common to an overwhelming number of women, was their experience and perception of violence on campus. The anecdotal evidence of threats to and violations of women’s safety, in educational spaces was astounding. And the work the department has done since, with the survey, has rendered the experiences of women students undeniable to those who refused to acknowledge the problem.

I say it’s a difficult question, because there are so many underlying issues here. The under-investment in services which would assist in addressing the problem, the reticence to disclose information central to making any progress or change, and the threat’s existence in and of itself…these are such deep, entrenched problems, which really were at the forefront of the very preliminary push for change in 09.

What do you think is the biggest issue is for women students today?

I think the violence and sexism which takes place in the classroom is a really fundamental issue. Sometimes blatant, other times more veiled, it is a source of ongoing and frequent oppression.

This kind of fundamental discrimination and rejection of views on a gendered-basis feeds  into the way men will enter the world, and the validation of such behavior, particularly through silence on the part of teachers is a source of grave concern.

What achievement or campaign are you most proud of?

Finally getting somewhere with the safety on campus issue really made the whole year’s toil seem worth it. I hate that it was such a disgusting occasion which brought the issue to the attention of the wider community (the St Paul’s Facebook group). But it meant that people/media/universities had to pay attention to what we’d been trying to get through all year.

I’ve been absolutely amazed by the work Keelia, Courtney and yourself (Noni) have done on this issue in the years since. The survey, and the way it has had a genuine and real impact on changing attitudes to this issue amongst those with the resources to do something about it has been such a source of inspiration.

When you were women’s officer what couldn’t you leave the house without?

Phone. And whatever sanity I could scrounge up for the day was always  a bonus.

Do you think that the women’s movement is growing or shrinking?

Growing? I suppose it depends on what you’re prepared to include as being part of the movement. Is it attendance at Slutwalk, or at NOWSA which forms the measure of growth in the movement? Or both? Or neither?

I suppose either way, I feel like in my own communities, and to my surprise in my experiences this year especially, there are more women who identify as feminists. So I’m going to remain the eternal optimist and say growing (full stop)

What are you doing now?

I’m a law student. Which is an unexpected place to have found myself in, but one I’m for the most part pretty happy with.

What message would you give to young women thinking about getting involved in the student women’s movement?

Look after those around you, and take care of your health and wellbeing.

Nothing is more important than your family, and your friendships.

And try not to forget the reason you got involved in the first place.

All of these things are easier said than done, of course. But you should do them anyway.

Would you do it all again?

Another difficult question. I worked with some truly amazing people, and there are many moments and things I would not want to take back.

But I wish I’d followed my own above advice a bit better.

I guess the answer is a qualified yes J

Talk About It Interviews: Courtney Sloane


Name: Courtney Sloane,

What Year were you NUS Women’s Officer? 2011

 You collated the results of the Talk About It Survey and created the Safety Blueprint, were you pleased with the final product? Absolutely. Having hard data and a report that had been endorsed by the ERA, Universities Australia and White Ribbon made it a lot easier to demonstrate how widespread the problem was to both universities and the wider community. It also provided an opportunity for students to build constructive relationships with their university on this issue. I am immensely proud of the recommendations: they articulate clearly what can be done to address gendered violence, and they are ours as students – we own the issue and we are driving the shape of anti-violence initiatives on our campuses.

What would you do differently next time around with regards to Talk About It? Tweak the methodology to make it less vulnerable to criticism and dismissal by the bodies we’re trying to influence.

 What do you think should be changed about Talk About It when it’s run in 2012? Partnering with a researcher or research body to ensure the methodology is appropriate and consistent. This is not to say that the methodology was weak the first time around, but having even a slight technical problem made it that much easier for a university to dump the entire report.

 What achievement or campaign are you most proud of? Earlier this year, the ACT Government actually set aside some funding to implement one of the Blueprint’s recommendations across the Territory’s public universities. It’s one thing to have the entire country aware of gendered violence on campus, as they were via the media when the report was released, but to have a government actually implement change was very exciting. I’m probably most proud of the TAI project. From the cooperation that multiple NUS Women’s Officers were able to have, to the development of the recommendations, their endorsement and the subsequent media coverage, the discussion of the issue on our campuses, and the ongoing implementation of the recommendations and other initiatives, the project was hugely successful and a credit to the student women’s movement. It shows what we can achieve when we work together.

When you were women’s officer what couldn’t you leave the house without? My laptop. Maybe some coke.

What are you doing now? Right now, I’m finishing my term on the YWCA Canberra Board and starting out on the ACT Minister’s Advisory Council on Women. I have also just started an organization with another woman named Melanie Poole aimed at harnessing young women in campaigning for reproductive rights in Australia and in our aid policies. We have attracted some seed funding to develop training, campaigns and a website that will mobilise this ‘silent majority’, promote intergenerational sharing, and lobby for full reproductive rights, against a backdrop of the American “war on women” and an increasingly aggressive and radical anti-choice movement here in Australia.

And studying full-time.

What message would you give to young women thinking about getting involved in the student women’s movement?  Do it. There is no greater forum for achieving change. So many “women’s issues” overwhelmingly affect young women. Seeing and learning about the diverse experiences of women, being constantly inspired by incredible women and learning invaluable skills and knowledge in a safe environment will make your experience at university all the more richer.

Would you do it all again?

In a second.

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

Stop Being Dicks: A public service announcement

Recently there was significant attention given in the Western Australian press to the actions of a group of UWA students who thought it was appropriate to create an event, vaguely associated with a university club, that advertised women’s tickets to ‘sluts’ but not ‘crying sluts’.

Profound men that these were they also included a survey for prospective attendees which questioned the women’s bra size and their capability in the field of fellatio. Because, these women having achieved the goal of attending one of the most prestigious universities in the country, should count themselves lucky to be in the company of the kinds of men which sign on to these events.

To those involved I can only say, most emphatically, STOP BEING DICKS.

No, really, just stop being such unimaginative, misogynistic fucking pricks.

To them, and those that think of engaging in similar hilarity, I inform you of a fact which it would appear has escaped you. Women are people too!

They appear women in shape and size and not simply as walking orifices to be penetrated. They have faces, and eyes and noses and mouths and they all have brains too. Brains that have thoughts, thoughts that you are all just massive dicks.

I don’t even want to accuse these sorts of events of backlash, they’re not that profound or well thought out. These events are not about backlash against the theories and ideas which demand equality, they are just massive, underdeveloped dicks.

Stop being this way, no one really thinks it’s funny and I like to believe that we now live in a world where this sort of behaviour is no longer accepted by mainstream society. A society which has realised what these people have not. That women are not things but people, not orifices but individuals, not sluts but women.

There is, as with most things, a significant downside and danger to these sorts of events. Which is, that these sorts of ideas feed into a concept which says that women are worth less than men. These ideas and events translate into an acceptance and condoning of a society which allows violence against women to continue.

In the Talk About It survey of 2010/2011 86% of women reported being sexually harassed on campus. 67% reported having an unwanted sexual experience. The acceptance of these statistics is an acceptance of these sort of attitudes. To continue this behaviour is to state that women are some how worth less than men. That they  have some less intrinsic value. This is an attitude which must be rejected.

We as a society, as a community, need to stand up and say emphatically Women are people too- stop being such massive dicks.

I don’t think it’s funny, I think it’s harmful. And so does nearly everyone else.

As a group we need to stand up to these people. Until we do more than half of the women you go to uni with will experience unwanted sexual experiences. More than three quarters will be harassed on campus. They will be heckled, they will be abused and they will be raped.

Enough is e-fucking-nough .

Stop being dicks.