So where did the rape culture at St Paul’s come from?

Some current and former inmates residents of St Pauls College at the University of Sydney set up a pro-rape Facebook group, saying they were “anti-consent.” There seems to be a culture of rape at St Pauls, and at other colleges at the Sydney University. It’s not just the Facebook group – there seems to be a whole lot of other “recreational” and social behaviour based around the denigration, and rape of women at Sydney University’s colleges [link]. FuckPoliteness has an excellent rant about it, Hoyden Mary analyses college rape culture based on her own experiences of living in a college a few years ago, Kayloulee (in comments at HaT) describes her experience of living in a Sydney University college right now, Penguin Unearthed worries about nurturing misogyist culture, newswithnipples notices that has rewritten the story to downplay the issue of consent, and Jezebel points out Facebook’s appalling standards – it let the pro-rape group stay up for months, but removes pictures of breastfeeding mothers. Gentle readers, welcome to rape culture. You’re soaking in it.

As Mary says at Hoyden about Town, the rebuttal stories, the counterpoint stories, the ones that point out that there are lots and lots of good things about colleges and it’s all overblown and it’s just a few bad boys and the rest are really all decent chaps, and no matter what, IT”S NOT THE COLLEGE’S FAULT, will start to appear tomorrow. But in the meantime, Dr Ivan Head, the Warden of St Paul’s College, has sent off a very prompt response to the Sydney Morning Herald. (Funny how they never respond to rape allegations quite so quickly.)


The College holds all forms of sexual assault, rape or any proven incitement to rape to be abhorrent and we hold in varying degrees of condemnation anything that detracts from the freedom and dignity of women on campus and within our grounds. We at times work night and day on behalf of the women and men on campus to sustain a 24/7 environment in which learning is enhanced and enriched and in which we aim consistently at good, better and best outcomes.

You can go read the rest of the Warden’s response, and you will see that it does indeed hit all the high points. But what gets me is this. Where the hell does the Warden think the rape culture among residents of his college comes from? Does he really think that it just sprang full grown from the brow dick of Zeus? Or just maybe, is there something poisonous about the college, which turns otherwise decent young men (of course they are decent young men – they come from the best schools and the wealthiest families in Sydney) into misogynist groups who think it’s funny to say things like, “They can’t say no with a c–k in their mouth.” And it’s quite clear that it’s not just talk; women at the colleges report having been raped, living in fear of rape, not feeling safe even in their own rooms. There is something deeply wrong about the social structures that are nurtured within the walls of St Pauls.

But to top it off, this comment that shows that the Warden just doesn’t even understand how far off the planet he is.

St Paul’s College in the University is … one of those rare places in which the radical possibilities of life in a modern ‘secular monastery’ can be explored by an increasingly diverse group of very able students.

He is so deadened to the rape culture within the walls of the college that he oversees that he regards it as a ‘secular monastery’. Trying to cover up rape and rape culture by cloaking it in holiness, is he? Which reminds me, most of those colleges seem to be run by various Christian denominations. The churches who lend their names to these colleges should be feeling deeply ashamed. Do you think they will do anything about it?


11 responses to “So where did the rape culture at St Paul’s come from?

  1. Do you think they will do anything about it?

    Probably not — until enough parents decide that Sydney University is a physically, psychologically and morally unsafe environment.

    It might also be a symbolic — but significant — gesture if female alumni like Jane Campion, Mary Kostakidis, Julie McCrossin and Geraldine Brooks publicly demanded to have their names removed from the university’s website under the heading “WE CREATE LEADERS on this page:

  2. It’s privilege. By which I mean, the culture of entitlement that these private school boys live in – they are fed the message that they are better than all other people. Sydney University itself is an entrenched bastion of privilege within Australian society, as if Auckland University’s law school students constituted the makeup of the entire university. Not only are students not disavowed of their elitist pretensions, they are encouraged to have them. From there it’s a small step to feelings of entitlement.

    Crucially however (privilege does not equal rape), these young men come from a schools that nourish unhealthy masculinities. It’s a volatile mix.

    We see them here at the Australian National University, where (I would never say class doesn’t matter) they assert their importance for about a year before realising that nobody at this university really cares. I’ve spent some time on Sydney University’s campus, and the feel is markedly different, and these lines are markedly obvious, especially to an outsider who grew up on the wrong side of the tracks.

  3. Sounds like an [insert name of underprivileged suburb here] footy club to me. It’s times like this I snicker at the people who say that class out-influences gender — pace George, with whom I agree in a general way (no experience of Sydney U but plenty of Melb and the contrast with Deakin) and to whom I would say Yes but it’s not just privilege or there would be some moral equivalent in the women’s behaviour.

    Someone recently — Deborah, was it you? — was arguing that the reason feminism has come in ‘waves’ is that the patriarchy fights back, and women have to keep fighting as though it were the Somme, not just to take but to keep every single inch of ground. Otherwise how could these events have been possible, in 2010?

  4. I don’t want to underplay rape culture and male (rather than class) privilege at all. Without this there would be no issue here.

  5. No, it wasn’t me, but I think the idea is right.

  6. Interesting about the culture of Sydney Uni. Working on campus and dealing with staff rather than students I’m not aware of the culture of the Uni as being special in any way, but certainly the Colleges that are owned and controlled by churches, not by the Uni, are horrible places. I would never send any son or daughter of mine there. They all have rituals – I have seen students wearing nightwear, or academic gowns in the March heat, or rude t-shirts, in the first couple of weeks of semester, and there are probably other things that I don’t see. It is a dated, stupid, infantile way to carry on, IMHO, indicative of a puerile culture.

    Although I don’t deal directly with students, I spend a lot of time around the campus where they congregate during the day, and I don’t see or overhear any behaviour that is worse than any I’ve seen in any public place in Aus. But of course the amount of alcohol that is drunk is a large part of the problem. I have no idea how students afford to drink so much – I can’t afford to drink that much! I don’t frequent the student bars, but I’ve never heard of any problems occurring there – probably because university security is active in those areas. The colleges aren’t part of the university security network.

    I think this has been a wake-up call, and I would hope that the University will now be able to insist on its harrassment policies being adopted at the church-owned Colleges – apparently they have simply refused to do this up until now. There doesn’t seem to be any question of these things happening on campus – it seems to be confined to the cultures in and around the colleges.

    And of coruse it makes Sydney Uni look like a place only for the rich and privileged, whereas in fact most students aren’t in that category and are the usual kind of hard-working, ordinary students you see everywhere.

  7. Remember THE FIRST STONE, anyone?

  8. The First Stone

    I was living in NZ when it came out, so I have only the vaguest recollections of it. But when I was talking to my husband about this wretched affair, I managed to dredge the names “Ormond College” and “University of Melbourne” from out of somewhere, so clearly it had some impact on me. But that’s about all I know.

  9. I really enjoyed The First Stone, which apparently makes me a bad feminist. The gist of Garner’s book is that rather than get the police involved in what may have just been a doddering old fool thinking he had a chance with a young lady (and that’s all we know because the girls involved refused to speak to her, which is their choice, of course, but doesn’t make for a balanced book), why didn’t they just tell him to get stuffed?

  10. newswithnipples, the affected women at Ormond college tried to have the matter dealt with internally, by asking senior administration to do something about it, and only went to the police after said administrators told them they were not going to do anything about it.

    Garner could have made a gesture towards balancing her book by attributing the women’s refusal to discuss the intimate details of traumatic events with her to the silencing effect of rape culture, instead of to the spoil-sportiness of feminism.

  11. Did they? Oops. It’s been a while since I read it.