“Frightening” campus sexual harassment

17 per cent of students from Swinburne have experienced sexual harassment on campus. Photo by Sinead McComish.
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A report on sexual assault and harassment at Australian universities found nearly half those targeted knew the perpetrators. Sinead McComish reports.

Ebony* was getting ready for just another Tuesday night out.

“Me and the girls were planning for a big night,” she said. “We were all on a good level, good vibes, doing our makeup and pre-drinking as we listened to music.”

“It was around 11pm when we headed off to the pub. Everything was going well. I was having a great time and then I bumped into a friend I hadn’t seen in a while.”

Six months into her first year at Swinburne University, Ebony says she was sexually harassed while living on campus.

She knew her perpetrator.

“I wouldn’t say he was a close friend but we lived on res [residence] together and we go to uni together. He was more like an acquaintance.

“After running into him he was pretty much stuck at my hip for the rest of the night. It was annoying as I had no intention of having anything to do with boys that night.”

A few hours later Ebony decided to leave.

Once home she received a text from the ‘friend’.

He asked if he could come over.

She said no. About 30 minutes later she heard a knock at her door.

“I thought it must have been one of my friends coming to tell me about their night,” she said.

“When I opened the door, it was the same guy and he just welcomed himself into my room. I was a bit taken aback as I’d told him not to come.

“He lay down on my bed and patted it as if to say come lie down next to me, I didn’t and I sat down on my desk chair across from him.

Eventually he decided to leave and got up to say a “prolonged” goodbye.

“He kissed me on both cheeks which made me feel so uncomfortable. The last thing I wanted was him in my room basically kissing my face.

“After he left I felt disgruntled and on edge, I then had to force myself to go to sleep.”

Stories like Ebony’s are sadly all too common.

The Australian Human Rights Commission recently released a national report on sexual assault and harassment at Australian universities.

Over 30,000 students completed the survey from across 39 different universities in 2016.

According to the report about 17 per cent of students surveyed from Swinburne University said they experienced sexual harassment on campus.

The report also found nearly half of those who were sexually harassed knew some or all of the perpetrators.

The university’s student housing director, Rowan Tan, said student safety is the number one priority.

“If there are concerns expressed by students about their safety we want to make sure they are addressed as soon as possible,” Ms Tan said.

“I want to raise awareness about what sexual harassment is as students sometimes think it’s the norm and the culture and that’s not acceptable.”

Six months later Ebony received another text message from the same man.

“I was in my room and he texted me, he had obviously been drinking and he asked me to come let him in to my apartment,” she said.

He said he “just wanted to chat”, but Ebony was skeptical.

It was 2 am in the morning and when she said no he continued to ring the doorbell.

After a while he gave up and left.

“Even just knowing he was downstairs was a bit frightening,” she said.

* The name has been changed