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Stalked and sexually harassed on campus: One Aussie woman shares her terrifying ordeal

And the university did NOTHING to stop it happening.

I worked hard to get into university. It was exactly where I always imagined myself to be and it was my dream to study law. When I finally got there in 2015, aged 21, I was thrilled.

You always hear people saying your uni days are the best of your life so I was desperate to dive straight in.

During O-Week, I decided to join a few social clubs where I could make some new friends and live out the university experience I had always dreamt of.

I strolled through the campus courtyard where all the clubs had set up stalls to encourage new members to join.

I'm a huge fan of movies and cinema so when I spotted the film club, I hoped I'd meet a bunch of likeminded people.

It's hard to believe what seemed like a good choice, would end up being the worst decision I ever made.

When I signed up to the club officially, I was immediately introduced to James*, the club treasurer. He was well liked by other members, and seemed really funny and friendly. Soon, I was very much part of the club and we met up a few times a week.

Initially, I thought that James and I had a lot in common. He confided in me that he'd suffered through bouts of depression, and I told him I had too. It was nice to talk to someone who could understand those experiences.

As time went on, I became more and more interested in getting involved in the club's executive team. I really wanted a leadership position because I was passionate about the women-only events we were planning. I was soon Vice President.

It wasn't until two months later that I was alerted to the club's dark history.

A man crashed one of our 'Women In Film' events and *Amelia, the club president grabbed my arm as soon as he walked in. "We need to get that guy to leave immediately," she told me. "He always comes to these events to harass the girls. He's been warned so many times, but he still shows up."

What started off as an empowering initiative had become a dangerous hunting ground.

She went on to tell me that since the group's inception, it was common for women to be routinely harassed and stalked by the male members. Often, women would brief each other on who to stay away from.

I couldn't believe this. I wasn't someone who tolerated this kind of behaviour so I wanted out. I immediately stepped down from my position and made the excuse that my study load was too big.

Because I had dedicated so much of my time to this one group and I had made some good friends, I still hung out with James and some of the others whenever I was on the uni campus.

But I became acutely aware James was getting the wrong idea about our friendship and mistook me wanting to hang out with him and the others as me being interested in him. He began making sexual comments to other people about me, telling them that he intended on having sex with me, so I told him that I wasn't interested in him romantically and that his comments were making me really uncomfortable. He just laughed it off.

When he was drunk he'd text me late at night telling me that he was thinking about me, he posted sex jokes on my Facebook wall, and would rate my looks all the time.

I distanced myself from him as best I could – I was still friends with others in the group – but my trust in the previously funny easy-going guy I could confide in was gone.

During O-Week in 2016, James and two other guys would crowd around the film club stall rating girls between 1 and 10 and for "fun,", they started chucking coins down girls' cleavage. I couldn't believe I'd ever thought he was a good guy.

But it didn't stop me from going to his birthday. A lot of my other friends were going, and I didn't want to be left out, so I went along to the party he was having in Sydney.

The night was going okay. It was a smaller group then I'd imagined, but it was still fun. I got drunker than I'd intended to and started feeling really sick. I went into the bedroom and ended up blacking out.

The next thing I remember, James was there, on top of me, touching my breasts. Luckily, my friend saw it happening. He took me out of the room and helped me get home.

Afterwards, I felt completely sick and violated. I kept thinking about how different everything would be if I just hadn't joined this stupid club, how much happier and safer I'd feel. Inexplicably to me now – I actually blamed myself for getting drunk.

On campus, it had got to the point where women were being deterred from joining the film club and although it made me sad it had come to this, I didn't want others to be exposed to their vile behaviour.

I still couldn't come to terms with what had happened that night at the party. And to make matters worse, he started spreading rumours about me. He was telling the other guys that he'd seen me fully naked and that he'd been so rough with me that I had to go to hospital.

Between the assault and all the rumours, I couldn't handle seeing him hanging around anymore, so Amelia, and I decided to make a formal complaint to the university, along with another member, Dan*.

Dan had gathered up all the evidence from social media and from personal accounts and submitted it to the university. I never told the university that I had been sexually assaulted by James; I just included all the instances that happened within the confines of the club. They promised me that they wouldn't use my name in the proceedings.

The university assured us that it would all get sorted but it took them months to respond.

When the complaint finally went through, I got a message from someone I was still friends with in the club:

"Hey, James was sent all the evidence against him for the disciplinary hearing and your name hasn't been redacted. He knows it was you."

I froze. A wave of nausea flooded through me. I had no idea whether or not James was a violent person and I couldn't believe the university hadn't redacted my name to assure my safety. I was absolutely terrified.

He never spoke to me after this. I had no idea what could be going through his head. I was so scared I had to be accompanied by my parents to and from class for weeks. But this didn't stop him from eventually making contact with me. He would hide behind trees and text my number saying "I can see you" while I was with my mum.

Amelia started getting random phone calls at all different hours of the night. The caller would either start heavily breathing or just wouldn't say anything. She knew it was James*. Like me, she eventually left the club altogether.

As for the other female members, they learnt to tolerate his behaviour or they too would leave the club in the hope to find friends elsewhere.

I had high hopes that the university would expel him given all the overwhelming evidence against him. I was wrong. Following the disciplinary hearing, he gloated to his friends that all he got was a slap on the wrists. He wasn't banned from the clubs or from studying at the university.

I couldn't believe it. So I decided to lodge another complaint with the Deputy Vice Chancellor, including information about what I felt was a breach of my privacy, which was impacting my ability to complete my degree.

I kept asking myself, 'How many people have to be harassed by this guy until something is actually done?'

Soon after the initial disciplinary hearing, James began harassing my friend Tess*. Tess and I studied the same subject and he would sit outside our lecture theatres and tutorial rooms. When I saw him, I'd signal Tess to go out the other way.

At the same time, myself and other members of the film club were being approached by the Women in Theatre Production because he'd started turning up to their events and they didn't know what to do.

When I finally had the meeting with the DVC, I wasn't any more hopeful. I was being referred to all different places from counsellors, advocacy groups, even campus security. There was no central place for me to report and be confident that something would be done.

Every time I was referred to a different area of the university, I was forced to relive my trauma by briefing them on everything that had happened. But I couldn't give up because I thought my wellbeing and that of other women would suffer even more if he wasn't removed.

I thought that by pursuing my privacy concerns and fears of retribution, the university would have no choice but to remove him. Finally, they admitted to wrongdoing. They agreed that the disclosure of my personal information by the staff to James was unauthorised. But all they did was apologise and said they were committed to doing better next time. James still hasn't faced any punishment for what he did to me.

Now, I'm trying to rebuild my life. I've found new friends on campus who know about what happened with James and are supportive of me.

But mainly, I'm just trying to focus on the remaining months of my degree.

I still see James on campus. My friends still have to escort me to class. They've witnessed him staring at me intently every time I walk past. On one occasion he even followed me to class in an attempt to intimidate me.

This isn't what I thought university would be like.

Looking back on how hopeful and excited I was when I started uni, all I feel is a deep sense of anger. For myself, for Amelia, Tess and all the other women James has harassed. But mostly at the university for not taking my complaint seriously.

Over the last five years there have been 575 official complaints of sexual misconduct at Australian universities and only six expulsions. And let's not forget that the survivors of sexual assault and harassment are the least likely to report to the police. The confusing complaint processes at universities make reports even less likely.

My entire university experience has been ruined. All I can hope for is that tangible measures to eradicate harassment and assault on campus will happen in the future. Because nobody deserves to feel unsafe on campus.

As told to Angela Heathcote.

Names of people and club changed to protect identity

If you or someone you know needs to talk about any of these issues, contact ReachOut, RAINN or Lifeline for support and advice