Tackling tough issues the wrong way

The writer states that a recent booklet published alleging the University of Otago does not provide enough support for  sexual assault victims is actively harming their cause. Photo: Getty.
The writer states that a recent booklet published alleging the University of Otago does not provide enough support for sexual assault victims is actively harming their cause. Photo: Getty.
Recently, the University of Otago has come under fire for an alleged lack of response to sexual assaults on students. Last week, two students, Kyra Gillies and Monique Mulholland, published a booklet detailing their own experiences of sexual violence, and demanding the university introduce changes immediately, including the hiring of a female co-ordinator for sexual assault survivors and providing greater leniency on academic deadlines.

As a student and fellow survivor of sexual assault, I commend the students on their bravery. Both stories are powerful and distressing, forcing the reader to confront the realities of sexual assault.

It's a shame the pamphlet descends into chaotic and wildly inaccurate claims, such as the allegation the university knowingly profits off ''the suffering and hardship of student rape survivors''.

According to the booklet, Gillies sought publication in Critic, the university's student magazine. Gillies claims the university authorities ''threatened the Critic with a defamation court case''. Apparently, this ''threat of legal action was enough to scare Critic off'' and consequently, no article was published.

Both the university and Critic deny this claim. Publication of the article was halted because it breached the privacy of people identified, misquoted the proctor, and contained a number of inaccuracies. As a past Critic employee, I can guarantee the sincerity and honesty of the editors.

I've no doubt they sympathise with the students, but the reality of the matter is Critic has an obligation to present the truth fairly and honestly. Its publishing of Gillies' article would have been a malicious action, grossly unfair to staff and other identifiable students.

The long and rambling Freudian analysis of the current state of affairs does the movement a disservice. Additionally, Gillies and Mulholland conflate the university with the police force. The university has no responsibility for the police's alleged mishandling of the case, and should not be held to account for this.

One of their more outrageous demands is that ''all student fees for courses and services to be frozen, no further raises in fees, next year or ever''.

What relevance does this have to the issue at hand?

One of the largest errors of this aggressive tactic is that Gillies and Mulholland have taken the focus off prevention and education, instead heaping blame upon people who aren't the alleged perpetrator. The university authorities clearly want to bring the issue to light, and hold people accountable.

Yet portraying the proctor and other staff members as ignorant, uncaring ''faceless men'' will only make other sexual assault survivors unwilling to step forward, share their stories and seek help.

Moreover, this approach fails to acknowledge other people are being productive. Extensive changes were made to the Critic Blind Date column in 2017, with feedback from the vice-chancellor, the proctor, the OUSA CEO, Student Support, students and Critic's media advisory board.

Participants now have to order a meal each, and there is a strict limit on the amount of alcohol purchased. Participants are given Critic's phone number, which they can call at any time if they feel uncomfortable for any reason, and the editors will pick them up. Additionally, the email sent to volunteers confirming their selection for the date provides a range of safety tips.

A Sexual Harm and Response Evaluation Working Group (Share) was set up by the university in 2016 to review and make recommendations on the university's policies surrounding sexual misconduct. While change has been slow in eventuating, it is a reality that comprehensive research needs to be undertaken and best practice considered before changes can be implemented.

Moreover, Student Support has worked really hard to team up with Youthline to give students access to cheap or free counselling after their six sessions have run out.

So, what can we learn from this? Despite a number of inaccuracies, the published booklet does address genuine failings in the current system. The role of alcohol and drugs in sexual assault cases needs to be more thoroughly investigated. It is evident six counselling sessions per student per year is inadequate.

In my opinion, the university would do well to institute consent workshops in affiliated halls of residence, and more support should be afforded to the ''Thursdays in Black'' campaign on campus.

The rates of sexual violence for university students in New Zealand are not readily available. Evidently, more time and resources need to be devoted to addressing this matter, on a national scale.

However, an overwrought publication, full of erroneous assumptions and inaccurate claims does the movement a disservice. You can't just yell at someone until they change their mind.

-Jean Balchin is an English student at the University of Otago.


I am amazed that the egregious 'Blind Date' column is real and actual. Objectifying and 'on the make'. It's not 1973 here.

So, that's what happened to '7 Tables'.




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