Bleats

The University of Sydney Has Just Announced A New Sexual Harassment Policy, But Activists Have Concerns

The policy announcement comes exactly a year after the release of the Change The Course Report.

This article discusses sexual harassment and assault.

The University of Sydney has announced the adoption of a new sexual harassment policy. The announcement comes on the one-year anniversary of the Australian Human Rights Commission’s Change The Course Report, which was the result of a survey of students at 39 universities across Australia. The report found that one in ten women had experienced sexual assault while studying in the past two years.

In an email to students, Vice-Chancellor Michael Spence wrote that the University of Sydney has “taken significant steps” in the past 12 months, “in collaboration with a number of experts in the field as well as student representatives who make up the Safer Communities Advisory Group.”

The Student Sexual Assault and Sexual Harassment Policy states, amongst other things, that “behaviour that is intimidating, abusive, disrespectful or threatening, including sexual assault and sexual harassment, is not acceptable and will not be tolerated.”

The most significant aspect of the policy is the creation of an online disclosure portal that allows confidential disclosure of an incident without requiring students to make formal complaints.

However, advocacy groups like End Rape on Campus have concerns about the practicalities of this portal.

One concern raised by EROC’s founder, Sharna Bremner, is the fact that Sydney Uni’s online disclosure portal times out after ten minutes of inactivity.

Putting a time limit on how long students are allowed to spend disclosing their traumatic experiences seems extremely short-sighted; in Bremner’s words, it’s simply not sufficiently survivor-centric or trauma-informed. The portal also sets a word limit on students’ submissions.

Other things Sydney Uni has implemented include a ‘Consent Matters’ portal that has been mandatory for all commencing students since the beginning of this year, bystander training for student leaders, and a 1800 SYD HLP hotline staffed by Student Liaison Officers, although the effectiveness of these steps have been hotly contested (VC Spence himself said last August that the Consent Matters module wasn’t up to snuff.)

Writing for the Sydney Morning Herald, EROC’s director, Anna Hush, discussed what universities have actually done since the report’s release one year ago today. Hush argued that universities have opted for quick fixes instead of widespread institutional change.

Sydney University SRC President Imogen Grant agreed, and stated that in the case of Sydney Uni’s announcement today, they were “prioritising the press announcement and cheap reputational wins above doing the job properly”.

The announcement also coincides with anniversary protests that are taking place at universities around the country later today, including at the University of Sydney.

If you or someone you know has been affected by sexual violence call the RESPECT hotline on 1800 737 732.

New Zealand Will Grant Survivors Of Domestic Violence Ten Days Of Paid Leave, And Australia Should Follow In Its Footsteps

It's a great step towards supporting survivors – because the last thing anyone needs when dealing with domestic violence is to worry about their job.

New Zealand became the first country in the world to implement paid leave for survivors of domestic violence when it passed the Domestic Violence Victims’ Protection Bill on Wednesday night.

The bill was introduced to Parliament by Green Party MP Jan Logie, and passed with 63 votes for and 57 votes against. It will go into place in April next year.

This makes New Zealand the first country in the world to have a law of this kind. While several Canadian provinces have similar laws, and Canada’s federal government announced its intention to give survivors 5 days paid leave in this year’s budget, it is not yet the law there.

Working to end domestic violence

This is a world first! Green MP Jan Logie MP's bill for the victims of domestic violence will be law from April next year. Domestic violence is something that we all have a stake in reducing so it's wonderful to see this finally happen.

Posted by Green Party of Aotearoa New Zealand on Tuesday, 24 July 2018

The bill is the result of seven years of hard work from Logie, activists and unions across New Zealand.

According to Women’s Refuge New Zealand, 60% of victims of domestic violence were in full-time employment before they entered an abusive relationship, but only 27.5% stayed employed during the relationship.

Speaking to John Campbell of Radio New Zealand, Logie argued that the bill not only benefits victims, but businesses too.

“Too many businesses don’t know how to respond… they lose great staff, or they lose productivity because everyone else in the workplace is trying to work out how do they keep her safe, and not having the support to know how to do that.”

The loss of employment and the support it provides is severely felt. Many abusive partners seek to control their victims by limiting their contact with the outside world, because if a victim becomes reliant on their abuser as their only means of financial and emotional support, they will be less likely to leave.

By enshrining paid domestic violence leave in law, New Zealand is helping victims have one less thing to worry about when they are trying to leave abusive relationships. They won’t have to worry about money, or potentially losing their job, and can focus on more immediate and important concerns like their safety.

It makes sense – if you can get paid leave for being sick, why shouldn’t you get it when you’re trying to leave an abusive and horrific situation?

In March, the Fair Work Commission here in Australia ruled that all Australian employees covered by modern awards should be entitled to up to five days of unpaid leave if they need to deal with the impact of domestic violence, which is a far cry from the ten days of paid leave that was recommended by unions and that is now law in New Zealand.

Survivors of abuse don’t just need time to heal and piece their lives back together, they need resources too; the ACTU places the cost of leaving an abusive relationship at as much as $18,000. Without financial support in the form of paid leave, victims may feel unable to leave their abusive partners.

Like in so many other areas, our friends across the Tasman are way ahead of us, and we should be racing to catch up.

Brock Turner's Lawyers Have Begun The Appeals Process On The Grounds That He Committed "Outercourse", Whatever The Hell That Is

According to his lawyers, the jury did not have enough evidence to convict, and argued that he had committed "outercourse", which apparently means "a sexual act while clothed".

Content warning: this article discusses sexual assault.

Remember Brock Turner, the Stanford student who was found guilty on three felony charges of assault, and who was the subject of that powerful letter that went viral in 2016?

After he received a six-month jail sentence that he only served three months of, his lawyers have launched an appeal to have his conviction overturned, and their reasoning is… questionable.

Stanford University

His crack legal team are arguing that the jury did not have enough evidence to convict, and even if they did, Turner didn’t commit assault but actually “outercourse”, meaning a sexual act while clothed.

If you were like me and hadn’t heard the term until now, you might be amazed to know that it is actually a thing. Planned Parenthood defines it “other sexual activities besides vaginal sex”, which is slightly different to the definition being used by Turner’s lawyers.

One of the many problems with this idea of “outercourse” being significantly different from other forms of assault is that it completely ignores the effect of assault on the victim.

Assault is traumatising for someone whether it happens while they’re fully clothed, partially clothed, or completely undressed, and Brock Turner’s lawyers are awful for trying to undo what feminists have been fighting for for decades: legal acknowledgement of all forms of assault, not just the penis-in-vagina kind.

Not to mention, if the jury didn’t have sufficient evidence to convict, why was this not brought up during the initial trial, when both sides are traditionally expected to bring up all relevant evidence and counter-arguments?

Deputy Attorney General Alisha Carlile argued that there was “ample evidence”, and according to the Associated Press, the appeals court judges “appeared skeptical” of Turner’s lawyer’s arguments, which is a mood.

P.S. The original judge who was criticised for giving Turner such a lenient sentence? He was voted out of office last month. Nice.

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