A La Trobe University student says she was attacked on social media for objecting to a planned speaker who says any claims of a rape crisis on campus are “pretend”.
The La Trobe University Liberal Club will be hosting a talk next week by sex therapist Bettina Arndt, who argues that men are being unfairly demonised.
She will discuss the Human Rights Commission survey which was released last year which showed evidence of widespread sexual assault on campus.
The student, 25-year-old Sienna Brown, contacted the Vice-Chancellor’s office after she heard of the event, saying she had been sexually abused on campus and that the event made her feel uncomfortable.
In an e-mail to the Vice-Chancellor’s chief of staff, Leon Morris, on August 22, Ms Brown said she felt unsafe on campus and was shocked the university would hold an event that blamed victims of the #MeToo movement.
“Unfortunately there have been times I have been made to feel unsafe as a woman at La Trobe. I have experienced harassment and sexism as recently as today,” Ms Brown wrote.
“I feel angry, frustrated and afraid, but I honestly believed La Trobe wanted to do better. Today I have been shocked and disappointed to see that La Trobe Liberal Club are hosting an event by Bettina Arndt, to allow her to blame victims of assault and condemn the #MeToo movement which I have been a part of.”
She said she was basing that belief on the description of the talk given in the posters for the event.
“This rhetoric is damaging to survivors like myself, and makes the university environment less safe for myself and others.”
Ms Arndt was one of Australia’s first sex therapist, and is a social commentator on gender issues, specifically men’s issues and what she has described as the anti-male feminist agenda.
She said she was alarmed by the “increasing demonisation” of men.
La Trobe Liberal Club, president James Plozza said that the discussion was meant to encourage free, thoughtful and meaningful discussion.
“We reject the notion that Ms Arndt is victim blaming and while we want the students to scrutinise the discussion, we want them to do it respectfully. I will be really disappointed if there is any kind of chaos on the day of the event,” Mr Plozza said.
The event was initially scheduled for August 14, but was cancelled because of security concerns. It will now go ahead, with security costs covered by the university, the Liberal Club said.
Ms Brown said that when expressed her opposition to the event on Facebook, she received rape threats and verbal abuse.
“I am scared to go to my campus after the rape threats. Most of them came from fake profiles and while they know who I am, I don’t [know who they are],” Ms Brown said.
“The fact that there will be men at this event who may have actually threatened me online sickens me. I strongly feel these events embolden people.
“It doesn’t matter what the university is doing at the back end to tackle the issue if when actual complaints are made, no support is shown,” she said.
Ms Arndt said universities were being controlled by activists seeking to impose their views on the majority.
“I am deliberately seeking to open up discussion on the fake rape crisis because I believe our centres of higher learning shouldn’t cave in to efforts of feminist social activists to silence discussion on this issue,” she told Mojo News.
“We need to ask why they don’t want people talking about the real evidence regarding the rape crisis. The answer is they don’t want their lies exposed. The fact that 99.2 per cent did not report sexual abuse means universities are safe and this is a good thing,” she said.
End Rape on Campus Australia director Nina Funnell said this was the wrong way to look at the survey and it underestimated the harm done to the survivor community.
“According to the report, 1.6 per cent of women were sexually assaulted in a university setting, including events of public transport to and from uni not involving other students,” Ms Funnel said.
“Put into perspective this is 30 students per day – every day – and that is horrifying. This doesn’t in any way mean that the universities are a safe space. Incidents like this affect the survivors and on a very fundamental level,” she said.
The event at La Trobe will be the first on a campus tour by Ms Arndt. She will be speaking in Sydney on September 11, followed by Canberra and Murdoch Universities.
La Trobe University was approached for comment but had not responded by deadline.
This story was first published in Mojo News.