When “okay” is not OK

Jasmine says people “shouldn’t be scared to say the word ‘rape’”. Photo by Tayla Wilson.
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Students are speaking out on high levels of sexual assault and harassment. Tayla Wilson reports.

It was a summer’s night. Jasmin* had spent the day watching the Australian Open finals with her boyfriend at his shared home in Melbourne. They headed off to his bedroom.

“I was quite tired but he wasn’t, so we were playing around a bit and then he wanted to have sex. I wasn’t really interested but I said yes anyway because he was adamant about it,” she said.

“Things started to progress and then I wasn’t feeling comfortable with what we were doing. I said ‘no’ multiple times but he just kept saying ‘it’s ok’, ‘you’ll be fine’ and ‘come on’. He kept going. I had to yell his name and tell him to stop”.

But he didn’t stop.

Jasmin is one of the 6.9 per cent of university students who were sexually assaulted in 2016, according to the National Report on Sexual Assault and Sexual Harassment in Universities.

Swinburne Student Welfare Officer Alex McGilvray says the priority of universities following the release of the report is to raise awareness of the issue.

“We need to make sure that everyone knows that this is massive and it’s not something that’s going to be fixed overnight. We need to keep talking about it and telling people what services are available”.

Like 40 percent of survivors, Jasmin felt she did not need any help. “At first, I thought I would be okay. But I was having nightmares about it and thinking about it constantly. Whenever I went outside, I’d always think that he’d be there,” she says.

“He kept on messaging me after it happened. I had to turn off my laptop, phone and iPad. I sent him a letter saying that I needed some space. I told him what he did was really wrong and that I couldn’t forgive that”.

Like 87 percent of student survivors, Jasmin didn’t make a formal report or complaint.

The 19-year-old, who does not wish to be identified, says “people don’t want to be known for being assaulted or harassed.

“They kind of want to forget about it. And it’s scary to tell people because you don’t think they will believe you. My friends didn’t really believe me at first. They didn’t think it was as serious as it was.”

Because the number of those who report sexual assault and harassment is so low, it’s hard to get justice for survivors. “You rarely get to the stage of discipline for offenders,” McGilvray says.

“If you can muster up the strength emotionally, report it. Because as much as you kind of are a victim of the situation, you do have a responsibility to other people to make sure it doesn’t happen to them as well.

“We did get a commitment from the vice chancellor Linda Kristjanson that if things are reported, then they will personally drive students to the police station to make an official report.

“We clearly need to change the system that allows people to keep getting away with it and stay on campus.”

Swinburne Student Welfare Officer Alex McGilvary says she “wasn’t prepared for how the report would make her feel”. Photo by Tayla Wilson.

When Jasmin decided that she needed somebody to talk to, she made an appointment at Swinburne Counselling. “My counsellor was really helpful. She gave me some pamphlets on how to get to sleep and encouraged me to write down my feelings to get them out of my system”.

“I’m still not fully over it, but I don’t think about him nearly as often as I did,” she says.

Swinburne University plans to partner with local schools, teaching teenagers about respectful relationships.

“We really want to break down this perpetuating cycle of dangerous behaviours before students get to university to ensure that everyone feels safe,” McGilvray says.

Jasmin agrees that “it should be a conversation; it should be a safe topic to talk about”.

*Not her real name.

If you or someone you know is impacted by sexual assault or family violence, call 1800RESPECT on 1800 737 732. In an emergency contact 000.

The Swinburne University Counselling Service is free for all enrolled students, for up to six sessions.

t: +61 3 9214 8483
Level 4, George Swinburne Building
34 Wakefield Street, Hawthorn
Monday to Thursday: 8.30am – 6pm
Friday: 8.30am – 5pm

If you are in crisis, you can call the Swinburne out-of-hours- crisis line for immediate assistance:

t: 1300 854 144 or text +61 488 863 269 
5pm – 9am weekdays and 24 hours on weekends and public holidays.