The Lady Garden

Tea and Strumpets

Massey Wellington and sexual violence

*Trigger Warnings for sexual assault and sexual harassment*

This is an article about an attack on a woman in Massey University Wellington.

Massey Wellington was my home both socially, professionally and academically for 3 years while I completed my degree. I worked on campus in the Student’s Association, I partied on the campus with my classmates and I spent a depressing amount of time half-asleep in the back of lecture theatres. I love its weird super-industrialised-ex-polytech-linoleum-everywhere vibe, the cavernous old museum creative arts spaces across the car park, the committed and warm staff and the diverse student body.

What I didn’t love was the fact that for almost the entire time I was studying, my female peers and I knew that the bathrooms on level B, block 5 had a resident ‘peeping tom’ and the library had a ‘flasher’. The student magazine reported on the reoccurring incidents involving these perpetrator/s with a mixture of seriousness and humour – because even though these were actually events of sexual harassment and sexual violence, they were very cliché and therefore somehow easy humour. I think the library flasher even had a trench coat.

I remember my younger self laughing a wee bit at these stories because I didn’t really understand them. I didn’t know what it would be like to have someone approach you while you were trying to find a book down a quiet row of shelves and get their penis out. I didn’t know what it would be like to have a guy hide in the toilet cubicle next to yours until he could hear you going to the toilet (so you couldn’t get up quickly) and look over the side of the cubicle before running away.

I didn’t have a feminist analysis of anything except my mother’s mantra of “girls can do anything” which was usually solely applied to home DIY. I didn’t know that ‘violence’ wasn’t just physical. I didn’t think about the fact that women were the sole targets of these campus attacks, or what that said about the world I lived in. I just read ‘peeping tom’ and saw a distant cartoonish villain to be laughed at.

That was until 2007 when I wandered into the bathrooms on level B, block 5 one day without thinking. I was working, and I was unusually in the area and really needed to pee. No one was around (as usual, the whole floor was a pretty creepy area actually) and I went into the barely-lit bathroom and found a cubicle. When I shut the door I saw a sign on the back of the stall that said “females in this area” had been “experiencing problems” with sexual harassment or something similar to that effect.

I suddenly realised that I was in a dark bathroom, on a floor with little-to-no regular foot traffic, in a room that had seen repeat occurrences of sexual violence, and Massey University had given me a small laminated sign. Multiple females had experienced a hugely distressing personal invasion, perhaps in the very cubicle I was standing in and Massey put up a notice. I promptly left the bathroom, and as many of us have done before, I figured that this was just life.

My partner is now a postgrad student at Massey University and when he’s on campus he is based on level B, block 5. I have discovered that the abandoned linoleum-heavy, echoey halls of level B are in fact inhabited by art students who are mostly all hiding in studios or computer labs which you would never know existed by the permeating 24/7 silence.

One day recently I was helping my partner with an assignment and needed to go to the bathrooms. Now forgive me, but nearly five years on I had almost completely forgotten about the bathroom incidents lending themselves to level B. I wandered in to that same dark bathroom, into a stall, closed the door behind me and found to my horror that I was faced with the same sign.

After 5 years, Massey University has not managed to shake their ‘peeping tom’, who by now I’m sure we can all agree is a repeat perpetrator of sexual violence and harassment, who gains pleasure and power from intruding on women. Women who will never use public bathrooms in the same way again. Women who no longer feel that their campus is a safe space for them, even in the middle of the day.

After five years, Massey University has done nothing obvious to me or any other student or visitor except to put up laminated signs warning potential victims of what they may expect to experience in this area. Warning victims. Not helping to protect victims, but asking them to protect themselves. This is a pretty common theme in rape culture (the norms and attitudes which allow victim blaming and a normalisation of sexual control over women) – the expectation that if you have experienced sexual assault or harassment you were probably putting yourself at risk, and you should have known better, so actually you’re partly to blame for the whole thing.

After five years, Massey appears to give such little of a shit about what happens to the students who use this bathroom that they haven’t even put brighter fucking lights in the room. There’s no security camera by the outside door, no security guard regularly knocking to see if everything’s okay. No swipe card only access to mitigate the potential for this attacker to walk in off the street, or to monitor who is entering the bathroom and match it with reports of harassment. No. Just a sign.

And now Massey is the subject of a news story about an attempted rape on campus. Not because this is rare for Massey or the surrounding area (Magneto, the student magazine publishes crime maps once a month and it is glaringly evident that this area is a hotspot for sexual assault), but because this woman got away through self defence. If she had have been raped, this story wouldn’t be news because it’s so common.

I can only hope that now Massey’s name is next to “sexual assault” in the media that they will wake up to the fact that they need to do more to protect their students. Because as it stands, acceptance of the constant possibility of sexual assault is becoming part of the campus culture. And that is totally unacceptable.

27 responses to “Massey Wellington and sexual violence

  1. Msconduct August 24, 2011 at 6:06 pm

    Excellent post – thank you.

  2. Deborah August 24, 2011 at 7:04 pm

    I didn’t know, because I’m at a different campus. I’ll get onto it tomorrow, and see what I can do.

  3. Scar August 24, 2011 at 8:59 pm

    Just an FYI, I found this a bit triggering – others might too.

  4. Beckie Alexander August 24, 2011 at 9:37 pm

    I’m an extramural but I often visit the campus..will be mindful of that area from now on. So scary that they haven’t found this person,AND this is the first I’ve heard about it!

  5. MJ August 24, 2011 at 10:19 pm

    Fantastic post Coley. You may want to pop a trigger warning on it though? ❤

  6. coleytangerina August 24, 2011 at 10:29 pm

    Have updated with trigger warnings! Sorry all x

  7. Psycho Milt August 25, 2011 at 7:13 am

    I work at one of the other Massey libraries. We take shit like this seriously, because the libraries are open late, anyone can enter, you can mooch around for hours with no obvious reason for being there, and after-hours there are only a couple of staff on-site, often female-only. The staff are warned to call security without a second thought if there’s something they’re not happy about.

    That said: like any other section of the University, what the Library knows about is what its customers report to it. And what it officially knows about and can actually do something about is what’s reported to it in writing from a named person with time, location, account of the incident and a description of the perpetrator. In my experience, the students can have been telling each other about stuff like this for years without anyone actually telling the Library about it in a useful way. We occasionally get vague reports about some creepy guy in the library sometime that someone’s friend told them about, but that leaves you with nothing you can do other than remind your staff that creepy guys exist in the world so keep an eye out for them.

    The situation with the toilets is likely the same. I’d be surprised if anyone from Facilities Management put a sign in the toilets – it’s quite possible they’ve either never been informed of the problem, or never informed in a way that wouldn’t be written off as idle gossip.

    • James Gardiner August 25, 2011 at 9:30 am

      I also work at Massey and this is the first I have heard of this. We will investigate it and we will advise our security staff. I urge any student, staff member or member of the public to immediately contact our security staff or the police if they witness or are victims of what has been described above, both of which are crimes. The previous respondent is correct. If we are not told, we cannot act. I can advise that the attack on the woman on Tuesday night was not on the Massey campus, it was at neighbouring Wellington High School. The police made a mistake in their media statement, which I have asked them to correct. However, we are taking it seriously and talking to police and the school about ways in which we can help improve safety. James Gardiner, communications director, Massey University

    • Hugh August 25, 2011 at 12:14 pm

      If not Facilities Management, then who? Who else has the authority to put up that kind of sign?

  8. coleytangerina August 25, 2011 at 10:01 am

    Thanks all for your replies.

    James – thanks for commenting. My partner reminded me that the level B, block 5 bathrooms are unisex, so you can actually walk in there and have a look at the signs if you want (unless they’ve been taken down in the last month). I appreciate that you can’t always know what happens on campus, but if these signs have been up for this long surely reginal facilities must be aware that this is happening. I question who put the signs up in the first place, and why they have decided to leave them up for so long if this isn’t a known ongoing problem.

    Pyscho Milt – as above. I realise Massey is a big place, but if campus staff have put up (and kept up) the sign, then they are aware of the ongoing problem.

  9. Deborah August 25, 2011 at 1:30 pm

    I’ve just been talking to the Wellington Campus Registrar, who was very approachable and helpful about this. She had only become aware of the issue through your blog post, Coley, and was surprised that she hadn’t heard about it through other means. Be that as it may, she’s keen to effect change, so this issue is now firmly on her radar. As in, she’s had people up on Level 5 today taking a look, and seeing what can be done.

    • coleytangerina August 25, 2011 at 1:48 pm

      That is so great! I maintain that Massey folk are amazing, and I would like to think this is just a failure in process and communication which can be a learning experience for everyone.

      • tallulahspankhead August 25, 2011 at 2:24 pm

        So, for anyone who ever thinks online activism can’t get anything done? Thank you Coley, and Deborah and James.

        • Deborah August 25, 2011 at 2:28 pm

          🙂

          Also, the fantastic response from James, and the Massey Wellington Campus Registrar. I know it’s my own university, so I am inclined to be proud of it anyway, but I am feeling very gratified about the way that people here have responded so promptly.

          • Carlist August 25, 2011 at 3:02 pm

            “I am feeling very gratified about the way that people here have responded so promptly.”

            “After five years, Massey University has done nothing obvious to me or any other student or visitor except to put up laminated signs”

            So this is prompt, is it?

            I don’t buy this “Oh, nobody told us about it”. Campuses should be actively looking for signs of sexual abuse, not sitting around waiting for women to complain. We all know the reasons why women sometimes can’t complain that they have been attacked. Not good enough, Massey. Better than you’ve done in the past, maybe, but not nearly good enough.

            I’ll say again. A REACTIVE POLICY IS NOT ENOUGH. “WE DIDN’T GET TOLD ABOUT IT” IS NOT AN EXCUSE. UNIVERSITIES NEED TO CONSTANTLY REVIEW THE SAFETY OF WOMEN ON THEIR CAMPUS, NOT ASSUME IT’S FINE.

  10. coleytangerina August 25, 2011 at 3:55 pm

    Carlist my computer won’t let me reply to you, sorry. But I agree with you on all points, and I’m sure Deborah would too. The difference here (and I know this shouldn’t be the case) is that it is so refreshing to see an organisation/institution react swiftly and seriously to instances of harassment.

    As I say, it is entirely possible that this was a process failure – staff probably *did* know all about the incidents when they first started happening, and for all I know there was more proactive action than the small signs I saw. However I don’t believe that the continuity of care here (or as you say, the lack of preventative policy) is acceptable. It seems that after the initial reports, widespread knowledge and mitigation died down until now.

    However, this won’t stop me from being pleased and thanking Massey (thanks guys) for doing something about it once it has come to their attention. It is all too common to relay stories of harassment and come up against people who are quick to make excuses, pass the blame and sit on their hands. This, thankfully, is a refreshing change.

    From my other work interactions with Massey staff this is in line with a usually empathetic and active approach to problem solving. Massey also has a fantastic group of trained staff who act as a diverse team of ‘Harassment Contact People’, (which included myself when I worked there – not that I’m calling myself fantastic). I also lead campus crisis response during a really rough student death and was supported beyond measure and astounded at the lengths staff were going to in order to look after everyone involved. The processes are there and the staff are certainly capable, so this is an awesome opportunity to right a wrong.

  11. Carol August 26, 2011 at 9:02 am

    My partner works at the Massey Wellington campus, Coley. I will bring this to his attention. as you say, the more people that are aware of/concerned about this the better.

  12. nicjs28 August 30, 2011 at 2:38 am

    Wow. That was a roller coaster of emotions. I’m so glad I read all the comments after. I went to Massey 20 years ago in Palmerston North and had felt pretty safe there. So I was initially saddened to hear of the sexual harassment at the Wellington campus, esp as I’d wanted my 18 year old daughter to go there. Glad to hear that Massey are now onto it. I have always found them a very supportive university on and off campus. It’s true that if they don’t hear specific complaints that it’s harder to deal with. But is it possible for them (and other uni campuses) to do an audit on safe and unsafe areas for students? Now that they have some solid facts could students be questioned about other possible spots?
    Something that you mentioned coleytangerina, near the beginning, is that although your younger self had been annoyed by it, it’d also seemed funny. I really identify with that. we’d had a creepy teacher at high school who’d actually massage our shoulders! I got cheers when I fell of the chair in order to get away from him – but none of us reported him. He went on to another school where he was caught for greater transgressions. Why didn’t we tell – our school was supportive.Why don’t women tell – even to an institution such as Massey who is supportive? I think it’s what you also say in that some of it can seem funny. We can also be concerned that we’re complaining about something little – trivial, something that is normal – that we should expect (like at school you get good teachers, bad teachers and creepy teachers). This is wrong, but we tell ourselves a story – we survived and wait till our friends hear about this jerk. How can we get women to tell – loudly that even this little bit is NOT acceptable.
    One idea is to get universities to tell students that EVERY little thing will be taken into consideration. That all is taken very seriously. That any information will help them and police to stop greater crimes. As with my ex-teacher – these people don’t stop at the little crimes, but often progress to greater ones.
    What if we girls had told? At least one other girl might not have been hurt.

    Until we do start telling though – assume that it’s happening and do an audit of unsafe campus spots. It will be appreciated.

    • coleytangerina August 30, 2011 at 10:34 am

      You are so right Nic, and (perhaps not) oddly, we had the exact same thing at my high school.

      To get on my own personal soap box I think that this acceptance of the things that make us uneasy is a symptom of wider rape culture. We are told as soon as we’re old enough to go out with friends (and sometimes before) that it’s on us to look after ourselves and not ‘invite any trouble’ from what we wear or how we act. But as we know, that’s not the case; simply being a woman is seen to be inviting attention too often. That’s why one of my favourite SlutWalk signs was “Out alone wearing a provocative gender.”

      I think the myths that we get fed either explicitly or implicitly about men being insatiable beasts who sometimes can’t help themselves, make us feel like we are constantly mitigating risks to our safety, probably without realising a lot of the time. Like it’s just part of the package of being a woman. So when something obviously creepy happens (especially if it’s in any way cliché) I think we adopt this very subconscious gallows humour and tell ourselves it’s just part of life so we can avoid realising how shit it really is, and how gendered it really is, and how we haven’t actually come as far as we thought we had.

      • Moz August 31, 2011 at 4:51 pm

        I think it’s broader – you can wear a provacative race or sexuality too. Or be a provacative age. Or ride a provacative bicycle. Anything that puts you outside the “majority culture” (which ironically describes only 10% of the population).

      • nicjs28 August 31, 2011 at 7:39 pm

        I really agree with your coleytangerina. There is a wider rape culture and it’s bad for both sexes. As you said re women and I’ve begun to ask guys how they feel about it and what they feel they can do about it. Do they want to be regarded as “insatiable beasts” who are incapable of learning or developing? Many are tired of it themselves, but don’t feel they have a place they can voice their concerns. Thankfully groups are starting up of men against violence. Now we need to get the media to start highlighting these too.

  13. nicjs28 August 31, 2011 at 7:31 pm

    It all boils down to power and yes, you are ‘provocative’ if you are standing in the way of someone’s self-perceived power source.
    There is a story about how women started wearing the veil in ancient Arabia (millennia before Islam) when a Sultan had a favourite beautiful wife. One day he went away for a year, so she decided to build him a beautiful monument as a surprise for his return. She sent for the best builder in the realm, but he refused to work unless she gave him a kiss. Finally, she gave in and did so. He built the monument which was finished just before the Sultan came back. When the Sultan saw it, he loved it, but he also saw that she was troubled. When she finally confessed what had happened he was furious. The builder was executed and all women had to wear veils from then on.
    For me, this story epitomises all the attitudes that we deal with on a daily basis. The sexual harassment and rape of women, the blaming of women for ‘inviting’ it and ‘dishonouring’ the husband/family – But in addition the woman’s own lack of confidence in her own power. We are taught a ‘hero’ will come; we aren’t strong enough; it’s our lot in life; we invited it, so we deserve it… so many stories.
    Time and time again marginalised groups are told that their being attacked is their own fault. Many a time we don’t report offences. We are educated (including by our own mothers or others in the same group) to believe we are powerless and we often believe it.
    The woman in this story had power. Her husband was a Sultan, she could’ve had the builder thrown in the dungeon. Her husband would’ve accepted that. But she didn’t. Which story had she listened to?

  14. Jade K April 7, 2012 at 3:15 pm

    Has anymore been done about this?

    i am interested to see what is up there now and if it has become more known?

    currently researching campus attacks around NZ – best thread so far!

    • coleytangerina April 10, 2012 at 11:07 am

      Hey Jade, awesome that you’re researching this! I think the Massey Regional Facilities and Security team and/or MAWSA the student union would be the best people to answer that.

      • Jade April 11, 2012 at 1:44 pm

        i went to the location just after i posted my last comment, the floor has been refurbished with automatic doors and lights, no signs on the toilet doors. everything is brand new which is great.

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