WARNING: Graphic content
AN EXPLOSIVE report into sexual assault, hazing and binge-drinking culture at Sydney colleges has exposed the true depth of the problem.
From smearing faeces on walls of common areas to targeting young women as "bait", the litany of vile behaviour documented paints a picture of endemic sexism and bullying - which the report's authors claim create a dangerous, damaging culture.
In one particularly disgusting account, a former St Andrew's College student recounts a practice in which men would masturbate into bottles of shampoo or body wash left in bathrooms by female students, so they would wash themselves with a mixture of the product and semen.
An ex-resident at Wesley College told of being pinned to the floor by fellow residents and having wine poured in her mouth, her room being broken into and trashed and her belongings being thrown from her bedroom balcony. She said nicknames were given to new students, including "Fresher Mullet" to the girl deemed ugliest.
The worrying incidents reported range from mild bullying and bizarre drinking games to sexual assault and even death by suicide or, in one case, a St Andrew's student drunkenly walking into the road. His peers reportedly commiserated with a keg.
Self-harming was also a common theme, with another male student outed to his peers for looking at gay porn attempting to take his own life.
The authors of The Red Zone Report: An investigation into sexual violence in Sydney residential colleges say the stories are linked because they feed into a macho and permissive culture that normalises degrading treatment of fellow students.
The disturbing culture is introduced to young freshers at Orientation Week, according to the report, when student-organised events include the Wesley College "bait cruise", in which a new female student is chosen by second- or third-year students as their "bait" for the night.
There were also reports of a "Bone Room" at St Paul's, a large space covered in mattresses to which male students invite unsuspecting female freshers.
During the "Bachelor of Inebriation" at St Andrew's, students compete to consume up to 15 alcoholic drinks in a session without going to the bathroom, leading to some wetting themselves.
Freshers regularly report having to learn lewd and sometimes misogynistic college songs. "Two bins were placed in the centre of a circle of about 20 fresher students," said a St Andrew's student. "One bin contained alcohol. The other is for vomiting. We had to learn the songs and when we made mistakes we had to skol."
A St John's student recalled students being locked in a bathroom and buckets of dead rotting fish poured over them. Red-haired male residents of the college participate in an annual ritual where they set their pubic hair on fire in order to gain an unofficial leadership position.
But not all the stories are about drinking and sex. Some relate to brutal initiation rites, including one in which students had to climb stairs holding each other's ankles and wearing academic gowns for hours, until they were bruised and sobbing.
Other students recounted having to sit on the floor in filth for hours, stand with their noses against the wall for hours, perform boot camp-style callisthenics or drink until they pass out - a tradition known as "Fresher Sacrifice".
"I would say it's torturous," Nina Funnell, lead author of the report, told news.com.au. "It's a bastardisation of techniques we see in the army, but these are elite universities.
"One of the things I've come to realise is while the sexual assault disproportionately impacts females, some of the hazing rites fresher boys experience are violent and horrific.
"Students from these colleges have gone on to be ministers, state governors and lord mayors, these are the elite. What kind of culture are they going to be importing into the workplace?"
Ms Funnell, who released a series of articles last week on the issue, said she was "shocked but not surprised" by the "pretty disgusting" stories. "It's a slippery slope," she said. "There is a spectrum of behaviour here, but the things on the lighter end give way to more serious incidents.
"The common link is it's a culture that normalises the erosion of boundaries."
One recent article revealed a "penis drinking" game was among the degrading rituals at Newcastle University, while another exposed an offensive O-week manual distributed at St Mark's College in Adelaide, containing sexist chants and graphic poems about raping female students.
Ms Funnell said binge drinking games and initiation rites lead to a competitive atmosphere when it comes to sex that has led to male students barging in on women in the showers - and worse. "The sense of privacy is eroded in the name of the game," she said.
During one annual event at St John's College called The Purge, students are encouraged to post embarrassing and graphic photos and other details online about other students' sexual activity.
The Red Zone Report focuses on colleges linked to the University of Sydney - but the authors say the culture extends Australia-wide, citing examples from the Australian Human Rights Commission's 2017 report into sexual assault.
In it, students described hazing rituals and the pressure to participate in these practices, which often entail excessive alcohol consumption and humiliating and degrading acts. The residential setting of colleges was identified as providing opportunities for sexual assault and sexual harassment. Students described being sexually assaulted in private bedrooms in residential colleges and women being filmed in showers or bathrooms at their college.
Of 203 sexual assault case studies, 151 described a culture of excessive alcohol consumption and social pressure to drink at college parties and events. Alcohol was identified as a factor contributing to sexual assault and sexual harassment that occurred in colleges.
Ms Funnell says that she hopes her team's research shows in more detail than the Broderick report released last year just how prevalent some dangerous and discriminatory traditions are, and how many decades back they extend.
"I don't trust the colleges to reform," she said. "There have been multiple attempts to eradicate this behaviour but they haven't been successful.
"We have called for a federal taskforce into the culture at colleges Australia-wide."
The current rector at St John's, who was not present during the events, said that during the last five years, "St John's College has worked with its students to reform student culture and behaviour, and throughout 2017 worked with Elizabeth Broderick's team on a major student culture project. Cultural renewal remains an ongoing priority of the College."
A University of Sydney spokesman said the university hadn't seen the full report "and therefore cannot comment in detail on its contents".
"However, we are aware of some of the accusations in the report and it is for this reason that we are working with the colleges and Liz Broderick and her team on improving campus culture for the University and five of its residential colleges."
The spokesman added: "Those colleges have accepted all recommendations and their implementation is under way. The process for one residential college - St Pauls - is ongoing.
"The University will continue to work with student and advocacy groups to do all it can to make its campuses safe and welcoming for all students."
Do you know more about college culture in Australia? Contact report author email@example.com
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