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