The murder and sexual assault of La Trobe student Aya Maarsarwe was shocking and attracted huge media attention.
How appalling that this tragic event was used by Nina Funnell, in her recent article in The Saturday Paper, to scare people about the safety of our campuses and grossly misrepresent the risks to overseas students of studying in this country.
In the most cynical manner, Funnell links this sad event to my efforts to speak out on campuses about the so called “rape crisis”. Nina Funnell, who was one of the founders of End Rape on Campus, has been publishing a series of misleading articles attempting to discredit me, knowing that if I succeed in revealing the true facts about the low incidence of rape on our campuses it will undermine her efforts to promote a scare campaign.
This is simply the latest effort by Funnell to misrepresent my work using false statistics and distorted arguments – she’s published a string of such articles in recent years.
So here are the facts about her latest effort:
Funnell uses data from the 2017 Australian Human Rights Commission AHRC study to make her case that Australia is unsafe for international students:
“But absent from the headlines was acknowledgement of the increasing prevalence of sexual assaults on international students.”
“NATIONALLY, THE AHRC FOUND ONE IN EVERY 20 INTERNATIONAL STUDENTS STUDYING AT AN AUSTRALIAN UNIVERSITY WAS RAPED OR SEXUALLY ASSAULTED IN 2015 AND/OR 2016.”
In fact, the survey provides no evidence for the claim that there is an ‘increasing prevalence of sexual assaults on international students.’
This was a one-off survey. It reveals no data regarding changes over time in prevalence of sexual assaults.
The AHRC survey found that international students were slightly less likely to experience sexual assault than domestic students, both on campus and off campus (p. 51). But our campuses are actually very safe for both domestic and international students.
The ‘1 in 20’ figure used by Funnell includes incidents that occurred to students both on and off campus. They are reported by these young people but could have taken place in any number of situations, including workplaces, parties, all sorts of settings that had nothing to do with our universities.
Focussing on actual on-campus sexual assaults, the figures are tiny, particularly given the definition includes incidents on public transport to and from the universities. So, we find 1.4% of international students, and 1.7% of domestic students reported experiencing sexual assault in a university setting, including public transport to the uni, in 2015/16. That means a yearly rate of 0.7 % per year for international students.
Funnell deliberately uses the term ‘rape’ to mislead her audience about the seriousness of the problem she is discussing. The figures she refers to are based on responses to the following question, which includes a wide range of behaviour most of us wouldn’t think of as rape or even sexual assault. (p. 212):
But even with this very broad definition, over 98% of international students reported no experience of this sort in a university setting, nor during travel to and from the university.
It’s very clear most of the tiny 1.4 % who had had something like this happen to them didn’t think of it as rape – 40% said they did not report the incidence because they did not think it was serious enough. Another 40% did not feel that they needed help (p. 9). A brief touch by a stranger in a crowded train seems to most people very different from the serious criminal offence of sexual assault.
So, there you are. When I speak on university campuses about the ‘fake rape crisis’ I use the very same data to show that the incidence of sexual assault is reassuringly low. A 99% safety rate concerning the risks of sexual assault for students overall is pretty convincing!
Maarsarwe’s rape and death had nothing to do with campus rape. Her assault took place off campus, involving an indigenous perpetrator who apparently had no relationship to the university. She was simply an attractive young female victim. Funnell’s manipulation of this story to serve her ideological agenda is an unethical act and thoroughly unprofessional.