ANU student leader James Connolly recently revealed he had been sexually assaulted while at the University. He spoke on the ABC Radio Canberra, seeking to help others. Penny Travers and Adam Shirley, wrote about it:
On July 7, 2016, Australian National University student James Connolly was sexually assaulted. "I had invited him back to my room at college. He had whispered in my ear asking for consent. I had said no," he recalled. "Minutes later he was asking again. He was pleading while he had me pinned down against my bed. I had said no again and again. He had whispered ‘shhh’. "He was holding me down harder. He was stronger than me, larger than me. I was unable to move. All the while he continued to whisper. Still whispering, he had proceeded. He had silenced me."
For a year Mr Connolly was unable to process his experience and suppressed it. "Consent was not there, but I then felt so silenced and so shocked … that I was not in a position in the immediate post incident to seek support," he told ABC Radio Canberra’s Adam Shirley. "I didn’t feel capable of processing what had happened and I think that was symptomatic of very problematic internalised questions of: ‘Did I fight back enough?’ ‘Did I say no loud enough?’"
Now president of the Australian National University Students’ Association, Mr Connolly decided it was time to speak out and let others know they were not alone. He detailed his experience in the ANU student newspaper Woroni.
"I’ve had a number of people make disclosures and a number of people have reached out and said, ‘that was very helpful to read’," he said.
In recalling his experience, Mr Connolly said he was in shock and resolved for silence. And although he had worked in pastoral care previously, he did not report the incident to the university or police, nor did he seek counselling.
"I was a bit staggered that even though I’d been on the receiving end of disclosures and had reassured and comforted survivors and let them know that it wasn’t their fault … that I still fell into the same trappings," he said.
While Mr Connolly admitted he was "still struggling to make sense of it all", he wanted to address the reasons why male survivors of sexual assault felt silenced. "There are certain things about masculinity where men are told not to cry, not to feel vulnerable, not to feel things, and at a certain point a boy becomes a man and they just emotionally shut down in what they publicly feel able express," he said. "The cultural expectations of masculinity therefore make victims of sexual violence into something they’re not, which is weak, and that weakness then perpetuates the silencing of survivors."
Mr Connolly said it was that "toxic masculinity" and cultural values which played a role in the underreporting of male sexual assaults. "I’m a gay male, and I think there are entrenched issues that my own community does need to address as a community that sees itself as an ally of feminism," he said. "We still have the same challenges to overcome in terms of the fetishisation of dominance and how dominance is associated with masculinity and submission is associated with femineity, which is obviously a construct, it’s fake, it’s wrong, it’s incredibly problematic. But where those values exist in a community they can be toxic and they can manifest themselves in the form of sexual violence."
Mr Connolly said there needed to be a zero-tolerance approach to sexual violence across university campuses. "Universities already have the tools to take a zero-tolerance approach—they already have misconduct policies, they already have the capacity to demonstrate to students and staff that this will be treated with zero tolerance and that you will be disciplined if you are a perpetrator," he said.
Beyond the campus grounds, Mr Connolly said more conversations needed to be had about respectful relationships, dominance, submission and consent. "And that is not an easy conversation to have because it requires everyone thinking very carefully and seriously about what role they have in that conversation as bystanders and every other role."