Rape Crisis appalled by 'sick jokes'

ERIN KAVANAGH-HALL
Last updated 09:40 25/10/2012
Rape graffiti
Trivialising rape: Some of the graffiti Victoria University students have found offensive.
Natalie Gousmett
Concerned: Rape Crisis manager Natalie Gousmett said the jokes about rape were 'completely disrespectful' to women who had been raped.

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Victoria University students are embroiled in a row about rape jokes appearing in on-campus graffiti and on a student-run Facebook page.

Wellington Rape Crisis has spoken out against the student rape-related "humour" after jokes trivialising the crime appeared on Overheard@vic.

It is particularly concerned about the posting of a photograph of graffiti on university property that said, "I believe in rape".

Rape Crisis agency manager Natalie Gousmett said the agency had worked with Victoria University students who had been raped and was disgusted by the graffiti and the picture.

"Rape is actually happening up there," she said. "We have quite a few clients who are students, and we work with students from Vic who are raped while they are at university."

A criminology lecturer at the university agreed there was a problem, and that one of the origins of rape "humour" was the victim-blaming culture associated with sexual assault.

"We're still seeing women as being the temptress and men ... completely at the whim of their sexual urges," said associate professor of criminology Jan Jordan.

Victoria University communications manager Maria Cobden said student safety was a key focus, and the university had partnered with police and Wellington City Council to promote awareness of personal safety.

Other incidents of rape-related "humour" appear on the Facebook page, such as "you've got to rape the paper, man, you can't let the paper rape you" and "at least ugly girls don't get raped".

Ms Gousmett said that kind of humour trivialised the pain and trauma associated with rape.

"Rape has far-reaching effects and it's not something to be joked about," she said.

The graffiti was also upsetting for students who went to the Facebook page.

Female honours student Samantha Keene, who demanded the picture be removed, said she was disgusted somebody would post it.

"Overheard is meant to be something funny and light-hearted, but for some, obviously rape is funny for them," she said.

"This picture was removed within about two hours. However, it was up two hours too long."

She said the graffiti was not an isolated incident and that rape jokes frequently made an appearance on the page.

Victoria Students' Association women's officer Sara Bishop said she was appalled by the graffiti.

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Such dismissive attitudes revealed a need for heightened awareness of sexual assault among students, she said.

"We need to run things like consent workshops during [orientation] week. It's really basic stuff.

"A lot of young people probably didn't pick all this up during high school sex ed."

However, despite the students' association's continued efforts to promote Wellington Rape Crisis' services, raising awareness was an area where Victoria University was lacking, said Ms Bishop.

She said students' association advocacy services had supported students who had been sexually assaulted on campus and referred them to Rape Crisis.

The association also organised a campus safety survey, in which up to 15 per cent of students indicated they had experienced stalking while on campus at night.

She was aware Victoria's halls of residence had "technically comprehensive" rules against sexual harassment, but was unsure how well they were policed.

Ms Keene said she was not aware of any programmes initiated by Victoria to raise awareness of sexual assault, and believed that the subject needed to be discussed more openly on campus.

Victoria's Maria Cobden said the university planned to use resources prepared by Rape Crisis as part of its Who Are You campaign for upcoming orientation events.

"In addition, our health and counselling staff deal with students on a one-on-one basis," Ms Cobden said.

At Rape Crisis, Ms Gousmett said the agency had run a sex and ethics programme last year for secondary and tertiary students, with support from the Ministry of Justice.

But despite a positive evaluation, she said no further funding was allocated for the programme.

- The Wellingtonian

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