Diplomats, alleyways and rape culture: How safe are our students?

Posted By TEU on Jul 10, 2014 | 1 comment

Trigger warning: This story deals with sexual assault and may be triggering to some people.

A spate of recent attacks on Victoria University students has students and staff asking how safe New Zealand’s campuses and streets really are.

In April two young women were assaulted in the same area of central Wellington in less than 24 hours, on a council path adjacent to the university’s Kelburn campus.

Colloquially, the passage is known as ‘Rape Alley’, and has been the focus of numerous complaints by students over the years, the Dominion Post reports.

The attacks were later revealed to have followed an early-morning assault reported five days earlier.

The student union and the Victoria’s student women’s group subsequently organised a march and community meeting to talk about the issue. Student president Sonya Clark said of their event:

“It’s not good enough that we live in a society where the fear of sexual assault limits the ability of people to walk home without fear,”

“This aims to be a positive event that will turn frustration into community action.”

After hearing from MPs, university managers and TEU vice-president Sandra Grey, the 300-or-so students at the meeting agreed that while the short-term solutions were around adequate lighting and security cameras, the underlying issue was a culture that condones negative and violent attitudes towards women in particular.

That’s also the view put forward by the alleged victim of Malaysian diplomat Muhammad Rizalman bin Ismail.

22 year-old and Victoria student Tania Billingsley has voluntarily had her name suppression lifted in order to speak to 3News about the case. She says she does not want an apology from foreign minister Murray McCully if instead the government commits to tackling what she and others call “rape culture”:

“I would take them actually committing to address rape culture and to being just more engaged in this stuff as an apology instead; if they want to swap an apology for them starting to deal with this stuff then I’m okay with that.”

“[Rape culture] is a society and culture within it that normalises and trivialises and, even in subtle and obvious ways, condones rape and sexual violence.”

Tania Billingsley speaking to 3News

Tania Billingsley speaking to 3News

While Billingsley’s alleged assault took place off-campus, TEU national women’s officer Suzanne McNabb says tertiary education institutions have a moral responsibility for the safety of students no matter where attacks occur.

“Institutions need to be working much closer with central and local government to improve safety on campus and on the paths and streets students use to get home.”

“When female students, and they are overwhelmingly female, feel unsafe to stay late to study at the library, or in their postgraduate office -that’s a gendered problem and a barrier to women’s education.”

“When 20,000 women and children check in to Women’s Refuge a year, when they feel unsafe in their own home or their place of learning; we clearly have a domestic and sexual violence crisis in this country. It’s time the institutions and politicians acknowledged it.”

For help and support with any of the issues raised in this story, or for more information about sexual and domestic violence, here are some of the services available:

Update: You can read Tania’s essay on rape culture here.

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