Warning: This article contains information about sexual assault and suicide which may be distressing for some readers.
When Gabbie Lynch was accepted into one of the country’s most “prestigious” institutions, Sydney University, to study a Bachelor of Arts, she was excited for the start of her university experience.
She was also thrilled to be living at St John’s College during her studies, believing the on-campus building was “beautiful” and the college had “such a sense of history”.
“But I had no idea about the reputation of the USyd colleges… I was quite naive about all of it and what to expect,” she said.
Watch Gabbie Lynch speak to ABC’s 7.30 in the video below.
It wasn’t until orientation week she realised what she had walked into: she was immediately given a humiliating “fresher” nickname, and was forced to sit cross-legged on the filthy ground of the college bar for hours on end.
If she or any of her fellow newcomers were caught talking, they would be “yelled at and forced to skol alcohol”.
Gabrielle’s story comes as part of a damning new 200-page report, called The Red Zone Report, released today by organisation End Rape On Campus Australia and seen by Mamamia. The report draws its title from orientation week, the time in which first-year students are the most vulnerable to sexual assault, hazing and excessive alcohol consumption, most often at the hands of older students.
The report, authored by Nina Funnell, details the shocking history of sexual violence and hazing at some of the country’s most prestigious residential colleges, like the one Gabbie lived at between 2016 and 2017.
Detailing her experiences in the report, Gabbie said that a few days into O-Week, she woke to find three strange men in her room after a night of drinking.
LISTEN: Vanessa Grigoriadis speaks to Mia Freedman about ‘mattress girl’ and consent on uni campuses. Post continues after audio…
“It was terrifying. I felt so unsafe in my own room, it was a real intrusion,” she said.
But when she complained about the intrusion, she said she was told she should instead be “grateful” to be given one of the college’s better rooms.
The hazing rituals continued throughout Gabbie’s first year at the college, and during the final “initiation ritual”, male and female freshers were locked in uni-sex bathrooms while older college students threw buckets of dead, rotting fish over them.
Gabbie said she was also forced to take part in rituals including a drinking game where female freshers were asked to reveal “gossip” about their fellow female students, a “girls night in” where women were made to dress in horse riding gear and watch a male stripper perform and ‘The Purge’, a once-a-year event which sees college residents sharing embarrassing photos and stories of others’ sexual activity via a closed Facebook group. St John’s College told ABC it took all allegations of student misconduct seriously and would investigate the claims.
Other rituals at Australian colleges detailed in The Red Zone report include accusations of male residents masturbating into shampoo, conditioner or body wash containers left in the bathrooms by female students, red-headed male residents setting their pubic hair on fire, and male students drinking live goldfish which formed part of the table decorations at a formal college function.
The report contains dozens more sickening accusations of abuse, sexual assault, degradation and humiliation of first-year college students, often at the hands of older students.
Last year, two separate investigations into sexual assault and harassment on Australian university campuses and residential colleges were released. But The Red Zone is the first report that was not financially backed by the very environments being investigated.
As part of the report, the authors have made 10 recommendations to state and federal politicians to fix the problem within Australia's prestigious colleges and residences, including forming a national government taskforce to investigate the "scale and severity of sexual violence at Australian residential colleges".
The report also calls for a coronial inquiry into the death of Stuart Kelly, the brother of one-punch victim Thomas Kelly, who took his own life after living at the University of Sydney's St Paul's College for just one night, in February 2016.
After his first night on campus, Stuart phoned his parents, Kathy and Ralph, five times, begging them to meet him outside the university grounds instead of at St Paul's College.
Later that day, Kathy and Ralph met Stuart at Royal Prince Alfred Hospital Medical Centre. When he got in their car, he began sobbing, unable to speak. It was the first time his parents had seen him cry since the day his older brother's life support was switched off. In the weeks that followed, Stuart became withdrawn and refused to speak about his time at the college.
Five months later, on July 25th 2016, Stuart Kelly took his own life. His parents believe his experience at the college may have contributed to his death.
St Paul's College told ABC that while it had sympathy for the Kelly family, the claims had been investigated and were found to be unsubstantiated.
If you or someone you know is in need of help, please call the National Sexual Assault, Domestic and Family Violence Counselling Service on 1800 RESPECT.