Content warning: sexual violence, racist attacks, murder
In the wake of recent local attacks on women, Farrago has spoken to a number of students about how safe they feel on campus.
This survey was undertaken as a response to three recent sexualised attacks on women in the University’s vicinity. All three involved rape, while one involved the alleged abduction of a woman from Lygon Street and one was the highly publicised rape and murder of Melbourne comedian Eurydice Dixon. Evidently, this sexualised violence doesn’t occur in a vacuum and our survey also highlights other communities of students who feel less than safe on campus, including students of colour and LGBTQIA+ students.
Our survey is limited in that there is no way to quantify feelings of safety, particularly when comparing your feelings to those of others, but there are some general themes that we have summarised below. Percentages are from our data, and it should be noted that there were not equal numbers of each community involved in this survey despite reaching out to various groups.
Students surveyed identified mostly (in order from most to least) as: straight white women (just under a third), straight women of colour and straight white men (over a fifth each), white LGBTQIA+ women (a sixth) and then straight men of colour and LGBTQIA+ women of colour (one eighteenth each).
Unsurprisingly, People of Colour, women and members of the LGBTQIA+ community were more likely to feel unsafe on campus. For the most part, people did feel safe during the day, however one student mentioned she felt “least safe when I arrive [at] uni at around 8:30–9am, as I’m usually one of the few people there.”
Over half of students surveyed said they felt safer on the Parkville campus than they did in the broader community, 40 per cent felt equally safe and eight per cent felt less safe. There were few responses from students based away from Parkville but we’d love to hear your feedback if you would like to offer a perspective from other campuses.
When asked if they felt safe on campus, a third of students surveyed answered yes with few exceptions, with almost half saying they felt safe during the day and unsafe at night. This led to the most common recommendation suggested by students for increased and improved lighting of the campus at night, when many still have classes, or are using facilities such as the library or gym.
One sixth of students said that they only sometimes felt safe on campus, with one respondent saying that they didn’t ever feel safe as a result of their personal experiences and violence against women in the area.
A different respondent explained that even though they believed it was an isolated incident, knowing that their classmates “got mugged at knife point by three guys outside ERC last semester” meant “at night it can feel a bit dangerous.” The student also referenced the targeting of Asian International students several years ago in Lincoln Square muggings.
When asked if they felt safe on campus, over 75 per cent of male students we surveyed answered “yes” or “yes, very.” This was in contrast to a third of People of Colour (any gender), just under a fifth of women and non-binary participants and less than 15 per cent of LGBTQIA+ (any gender) participants who answered yes to the question.
A spokesperson for the University has advised that security patrols, escorts, and blue help phones are ways students can seek help through campus security.
The spokesperson acknowledged that the demand for security escorts has increased due to worries about “the theft of bicycles and computers and personal safety after hours during the exam period.”
The Safer Community Program currently assists students through the provision of support and referral to specialist support agencies, and also provides educational resources on a range of safety matters. “The Unisafe App continues to be popular with students who want easily accessible information about emergency services and University support services,” the spokesperson said.
When asked about improvements to be made to safety initiatives on campus, the spokesperson emphasised the importance of awareness and availability of information.
Security escort service
Some of the trends that became clear through the survey were that certain groups had limited knowledge of security measures on campus, while those that did rarely used these services. One respondent explained that “I’d feel like a bit of a drama queen getting a security escort, I feel like you’re expected to assume a certain risk.”
Another student said she was concerned “my anxiety early in the evening would not be considered … I mean, who needs someone to walk with them at 5pm? It’s not 11pm? I don’t know if my anxiety is warranted or not and also, I don’t know the security people and I think that elicits a concern of trust in a stranger over my potential safety”.
The vast majority were vaguely aware of security measures, but couldn’t provide concrete examples or instructions on how to access help with any specificity. Those few who had used the services were positive however. “I was about to walk down Tin Alley—it was very dark and very cold at the time—I don’t know why but I suddenly felt really scared, so I called campus security and they drove me home to my college—it was very reassuring and the person who drove me was lovely.”
“This service was very helpful, it was a really good response in my opinion. I thought maybe he would patronise me, or think I was being silly—but he was just really nice and supportive,” the student said.
Given the significant numbers of students who had limited understanding of security at the University, many respondents recommended making security people more visible, especially at night.
There were a range of locations in which people felt least safe, particularly alleyways and areas of campus with limited lighting. Monash Drive, Tin Alley, Grattan Street, University Square, Lincoln Square, the path by Carte Crêpes, routes to the law buildings, parts of Bouverie Street, South Lawn, the east side of campus, College Crescent, Swanston Street and Royal Parade were just some of the locations mentioned.
Many students avoided the campus at night, with one student saying this was because “the campus isn’t lit up very well and there aren’t very many people or security around, I usually avoid walking through campus at night and walk around on the main roads instead”.
Few people were aware of the presence of the help phones on the Parkville Campus and some students raised concerns about construction sites on campus. Some students stated they felt uncomfortable “in areas near construction where you have to walk through small spaces on your own” with other students explaining that while they weren’t threatened, they felt uneasy in these locations.
A female student shared an incident where she was walking to class, and collided with a construction worker. “Although I understand we did hit into each other, he grabbed my back inappropriately and for way too long.”
Reactions to recent attacks
During the survey, many students, particularly women and non-binary members of the community, expressed tremendous sadness, anger and anxiety over recent attacks in Parkville, particularly in response to the rape and murder of Eurydice Dixon at Princes Park in June.
Many talked about how frequently they used Princes Park in the past, with one student explaining, “I have always felt safe there so it was a bit of a wakeup call.” Another said that Princes Park was “my place to unplug from the busy city and now I’m too scared to go back”.
One female student explained that she’d “never really participated in some of the more extreme personal safety things girls talk about,” but has now started to question her safety. Others said they’ve “always lived in high alert” or they’ve “never felt safe”. One student said “it solidified my fears”. This sentiment was echoed by a female student who explained, “I just assumed my fears were fears, now it’s reality.”
One student explained that now that they are completing their Masters course, public transport is no longer affordable for them as they are ineligible for a concession card. As a result, they must cycle through Princes Park to get home after classes that finish at 7pm.
Numerous respondents argued that security measures were not enough. “There’s only so much infrastructure can do when it comes to social attitudes” asserted one student.
The idea of combating social attitudes, particularly misogynistic views held by some men, was brought up countless times. “I would feel safer on campus with more security guards, better lighting at night and if men were compulsorily educated to not attack women,” one woman said.
Another explained, “It seems regardless of campus security, regardless of people messaging friends when they’re nearly home in spaces that are close to the University, nothing is necessarily going to ensure safety.”
A third female student explained her views that “consent should be talked about and indeed taught by the university and the colleges to every student”. Some key topics she recommended were “compulsory education on gender stereotyping, victim blaming, domestic violence statistics and general violence against women”.
She also added, “Sorry guys, I know some of you don’t feel safe, but all women feel this way—let’s deal with the vast majority which in turn will probably help the minority anyway.”
Yet another female student argued that though “it’s important that the University is providing services to keep students safe, this doesn’t address the greater social and cultural problem that women cannot go home from their classes, extracurricular, jobs and social activities without it being deemed ‘risky behaviour’ and without feeling safe.”
Violence against women often finds roots in more “acceptable” forms of discrimination such as sexist comments. Students were quick to differentiate the two, explaining, “it wasn’t harassment but it made me feel shit.”
“One small example of sexism” that a female student described was the language used by her tutor. “A tutor made a comment about me being vapid and a typical woman for liking a certain historical period. He was definitely trying to demean me and said something along the lines of, “Of course you like ___. Women always like ___ because it’s vapid and entertaining, whereas men prefer more substantial history such as war history.”
This language forms the foundation of other forms of violence. Many respondents spoke to Farrago about their experiences of being followed, jeered at on campus, cat called, and attacks on people making their way home. One college student explained that following an assault on a girl at college in her first year, “all the girls messaged to let each other know when our classes ended late at night so nobody walked home alone.”
Many recognise that though their safety might not be at risk, other students need support. “While recent events have been tragic and devastating, I haven’t felt any less safe personally but I do worry more about some friends,” one student said.
A male student explained that he didn’t feel unsafe on campus “as I’m a white male and rarely targeted for much”. He added, “it’s definitely raised my awareness and concern for everyone else around me, especially what I can do to help them feel and be safer.”
There were numerous recommendations made through the survey:
• Increased lighting
• Education on the services that are available
• Making the blue phone boxes more visible by possibly changing their colour
• Equalising the services at the various campuses so that all students can be safe regardless of campus
• Potential for more student card enabled access areas
• Clear communication with students about reports and updates on recent attacks via email
• Class scheduling in daylight hours where possible
• Educating the community on how to be more respectful
• More severe consequences for those who assault or harass others
The University website explains that in emergencies that pose a risk to your or someone else’s life, dial 000. However, 03 8344 6666 or 1800 246 066 (free call) are available for non- life threatening emergencies.
Outside of time-sensitive emergencies, you can also find helpful resources through the University’s Safer Community website.
The Parkville campus is patrolled 24/7 by security officers to escort all students and staff from anywhere on campus to anywhere in the near vicinity of the campus such as public transport or colleges for free. To request a security escort at Parkville, call 03 8344 4674.
Escort services at Southbank are available from 5–11:30pm except for Sundays where they are available until 9pm excluding University holidays and can be organised via an email, including your student number, name, location and mobile number, to firstname.lastname@example.org before midday or alternatively call 03 9035 9311.
If you’re at our Shepparton campus the security number is 0418 577 383, and the Burnley campus switchboard number is 9035 6800. For all other campuses, it is recommended that you call the free call number 1800 246 066 or alternatively the Parkville number to get forwarded to your desired service.
On the Creswick campus, there are four emergency info cabinets. These can be found in the following locations: one just northeast from Gas Court, one just north of the main entrance, one on the grounds halfway between gates two and three along Water Street and one at the north end of Roger’s Street where it separates into Morrison’s Road and Uni Drive.
On the Parkville campus there are blue help phones that function as emergency contact point, there is an emergency button that will generate CCTV cameras and an alarm in the security control room, there is also an information button regarding security options.
If you or someone you know requires counselling or support, the 1800 Respect national support line is open on 1800 737 732.