Student Safety at the RCC: Rape Culture and Music Festivals on Campus
Written by Imogen Hindson and Clare Dekuyer
CW: Sexual harassment, sexual assault, violence
The University of Adelaide’s decision to host the RCC Fringe was driven by a desire to position the North Terrace campus as a cultural hub at the heart of the Fringe. However, given still-fresh revelations surrounding a culture of sexual assault at the university and its affiliated colleges, the arrival of a music festival without prior student consultation has raised eyebrows. As NUS Women’s Officer Sarah Tynan attests, “O’Week is the single most dangerous time to be a student, and having intoxicated members of the public with access to the university and university buildings does nothing to decrease this”. The question stands: is the RCC on campus in the best interests of the students at the University of Adelaide?
Music festivals are certainly getting a bad rap at the moment (thanks, Gladys Berejiklian), but there’s some truth to the hysteria. In a survey conducted by the ABC, of 500 festival attendees, 47% of heterosexual men ‘always’ felt safe, while only 20.4% of women felt the same way. That number is even lower for LGBTQ+ attendees. The reality is that spaces like mosh pits are known sites of sexual violence, where perpetrators can pass off groping as unintentional in an often physically aggressive crowd. Compounding this is a damning report of sexual harassment at the University of Adelaide from the Australian Human Rights Commission, where 39% of female respondents reported being sexually harassed at university in 2016, compared to 17% of male respondents. 10% of these harassments occurred in university social spaces.
It doesn’t help that RCC has spanned over what’s been termed ‘The Red Zone’- the period of heightened danger of sexual assault during O’Week. In 2018, hazing traditions in St Mark’s residential college were brought to light as victims shared their story with 60 Minutes. Crude rituals of “ponding”, sexual humiliation and degradation were described by former Women’s Officer Olivia Savvas as “clearly indicative of rape culture”. The 2018 ‘Red Zone Report’ published by group End Rape on Campus outlined 151 submissions that identified alcohol as being a factor in sexual assault or sexual harassment at O’Week. As the North Terrace campus’ liquor license is suspended to allow the RCC Fringe license to operate, former SRC President Matthew Boughey states, “you can’t have it both ways. The University can’t invite this kind of behaviour onto campus while simultaneously spruiking how much change they’ve made to adopting the [Respect. Now. Always] recommendations.”
A key concern to the student body is the lack of student consultation before the announcement of the RCC Fringe on campus. Though the university subsequently apologised for the lack of dialogue, Boughey believes that “student welfare wasn’t the primary concern … if it was, I’m sure we’d be seeing a very different RCC … one where students played a part in the development”. The partnership has been touted as a “mutually beneficial agreement” rather than a commercial deal, and the RCC Fringe will cover all costs to return the campus to its original condition in exchange for free venue hire.
Already, students have identified safety issues with the festival. According to David Elliot, President of the Pride Club and moderator of the Facebook page ‘Get the RCC off our campus — Adelaide Uni’, campus ‘activation’ “comes with that risk of the wrong people doing the wrong things in student and academic spaces outside the RCC’s formal operating hours”. Reports of a smashed toilet and damage to soil and lawn irrigation systems have been raised by Elliot’s Facebook page, along with “many instances of damage that are brought to light second-hand and go unreported”. Though the North Terrace campus is smoke-free, ABC presenter Peter Goers states in the Advertiser that he “saw no signs prohibiting smoking” and “lots of punters … smoking on university grounds”. Another key issue was the relocation of the campus security office “to a relatively unknown part of campus … and the lack of clear signage directing students there,” though the university has addressed these concerns.
The University maintains that the Fringe partnership “was not made to financially benefit the University but to bring a major part of the artistic and cultural life of Adelaide to the North Terrace campus”. Safety measures implemented include the designation of the campus as a Declared Public Precinct, giving police additional powers to patrol and use drug detection dogs. Deputy Director of Media and Corporate Relations David Ellis notes that many incidents attributed to the RCC Fringe on social media “have had nothing to do with the event”, and while some have gone unreported to University security, those that have been reported hold “no link to the RCC Fringe”. Furthermore, the release of the non-compulsory ‘Consent Matters’ module on MyUni in mid-2018 was an attempt to promote sexual consent education to all university staff and students, in line with AHRC Report recommendations.
Still, culture does not shift overnight, and the University still has a way to go. Given that 90% of victims of sexual harassment at the university in 2016 did not seek support after being harassed, there is a high likelihood of unreported incidents occurring on North Terrace grounds. Tynan asserts that the University “… are ignorant to the increased risk this agreement represents”, and calls for “further consent education … as standalone consent modules won’t work”. At the University of Technology Sydney, ‘Consent Matters’ was made compulsory with exam results withheld from students until the module was completed. A more pervasive approach to consent and anti-harassment strategies over a prolonged period, in consultation with the student body, would help resolve this endemic problem in Australian universities.
The temporary location of the Security Office for the duration of the RCC Fringe will be on the ground floor of the Oliphant Building, and you can contact them on 8313 5990 to report any incidents. In the UA Student app, there is a Campus Safety feature on the homepage, as well as a Safer Campus website you can access at www.adelaide.edu.au/safer-campus-community/home. The University also offers free self-defence lessons, the next round of which will be at the end of March. We wish we didn’t have to write this disclaimer! Wishing you all a very safe and happy Fringe season and academic year.