WARNING – This article mentions sexual assault.

In recent years, universities across Australia have been forced to face the harsh reality that their response to sexual assault and harassment on campus is leaving students without the necessary protection and support.

Sexual assault is an issue that the majority of universities have lacked the sophistication to deal with over the years, and thus many universities have now dedicated resources to change their approach and the culture of campuses.

One of the most comprehensive reports of sexual assault on Australian university campuses’ came from the Red Zone Report which was collated over three years from 2015 to 2018. It found that in two years over 21,000 people were sexually assaulted in a university setting. That is equal to 200 sexual assaults a week, or 30 a day.

Universities Australia started the Respect Now Always campaign in 2016, in an attempt to provide guidelines and recommendations for universities in their efforts to prevent sexual assault on their campuses. The University of Canberra’s branch of Respect Now Always has allowed the university to start moving in the right direction when dealing with incidents of sexual assault and sexual harassment on campus.

However, in the four years since this campaign launched, various steps have been taken to change the university’s approach to sexual assault cases, but more can be done and should have been done by now.

As a part of The Respect Now Always campaign UC has released a no-tolerance policy that outlines and defines behaviours and incidences that will not be accepted on campus. Individuals can report any of the incidents listed online, however, other reporting pathways are not listed and no information about the resources and support systems is provided.

Incident reporting home page 

Incident type 

Abduction, Act of Indecency, Assault, cyber bullying, domestic violence, drink spiking, forcible confinement."
A few of the options on the incident reporting page. Source: University of Canberra

Several universities around Australia have made various reporting pathways available, with online and in-person alternatives, even going as far to set up a point of contact for students and working with rape crisis centers for after-hours reporting. Setting up reporting pathways is only effective if they are talked about, yet conversations regarding what you do if you or someone you know is sexually assaulted on campus rarely take place. If reporting pathways are not properly communicated to the community fewer people will report the incidents, and the university won’t be able to accurately assess if the implemented changes are working to protect students.

Another difference between UC’s and other universities’ approaches is their reporting pages and the ease of access to information. The University of Sydney, Monash University, and Macquarie University continuously promote their reporting pathways and hold surveys to update the reporting system. Monash and Macquarie University have released an app to students that allow access to reporting pathways, emergency services, support services, and resources for further education of reporting and seeking support. And other universities such as the University of Newcastle implement training for students about how to respond effectively and prevent sexual assault and harassment from occurring.

The closest UC has got to ensuring that even a semblance of a conversation occurs is through the introduction of a consent course that all students must take at least once during their degree. Though the consent course is a step in the right direction, with mandatory participation introduced in 2019, something that is self-explanatory and rather easy to complete should not be where the conversation ends.

Consent matters introduction. Source: University of Canberra

If the university wants to effectively implement a no-tolerance approach to sexual assault and harassment the conversation around consent needs to be a regular feature. Keeping students safe and educated on consent is just as important as any other part of their education. In comparison to the efforts made by other Australian universities, UC appears to have done the bare minimum in implementing changes to prevent sexual assault on campus.

Many universities have implemented education and training programs for all students, not just those who live on campus, and some have established sexual harm prevention teams to further the active implementation of these recommendations. Other universities even go as far as starting a community-wide discussion about instances of sexual assault and harassment on campus and have used that platform to openly discuss the changes and protections being implemented.

Respect. Now. Always

Relationships between academic supervisors and their students are never okay: New principles releaser today by @uniaus on behalf of our member universities
An image from the 2018 campaign Respect. Now. Always Source: Universities Australia

No one is asking any university to magically fix the problem of sexual assault and harassment on campuses. However, universities do have a responsibility to create a safe environment where support is easily accessible, reporting is easy, and the disciplinary process is transparent.

The team behind UC’s ‘Respect. Now. Always’ campaign, provided a statement which details the work they are doing to ensure a safe campus environment, and the eventual stop to sexual assault and sexual harassment on campus.

“The University of Canberra takes its duty of care to all staff, students, and community members very seriously. This includes providing a campus environment – both the physical space and our online environment – in which our community members feel safe, respected, and free from harm. This extends to working to prevent incidents of sexual assault and sexual harassment.

The University of Canberra is committed to eliminating the drivers of sexual assault and sexual harassment through proactive and educative action and campaigns, promoting a no-tolerance approach to these types of behaviours. Through our communications, we make it clear that we offer a safe space for victims and action will be taken against perpetrators.

The Respect. Now. Always. Committee, formed in 2017, is a cross-portfolio team comprising key stakeholders across the University that work to implement initiatives and actions that make our campus community safer and target the underlying behaviours and attitudes that foster an environment in which sexual assault and sexual harassment could occur.

This includes the rollout of training programs for staff and students, such as Consent Matters; the review of our incident reporting mechanism and procedures, ensuring more effective triaging and support for students who report incidents of sexual assault and sexual harassment; a specialist review of policy and procedures at UC (The Broderick Review); working alongside our Campus Estate team to improve campus security and safety measures; professional development for front-line staff in responding to disclosures of sexual assault and sexual harassment; the development of appropriate guidelines and procedures pertaining to sexual assault and sexual harassment in the tertiary environment; and oversight of the UC Respect campaign.

We are informed in our action by the work of experts in the field and across the sector, taking on board best practice in the implementation of actions but always ensuring that our approach is suited to the UC context. We take a survivor-centered approach to our work. We seek to involve the student community in the development of actions to ensure that our response includes the student voice and resonates with our student body.

2021 will see the continued roll-out of the above measures, as well as an additional student-led UC Respect campaign that we hope will continue the conversation on what it means to study and work in a safe and respectful community.”

If universities, like the University of Canberra, want to be global leaders in an effective approach to stopping to sexual assault on campus, then more steps need to be taken, and these steps need to become part of the conversation.

For crisis support, call 1300 271 790, or text on 0488 884 227 to reach the dedicated 24/7 University Crisis Line, operated by Lifeline.

The University of Canberra Medical and Counselling Centre is also open 9 am – 5 pm, Monday – Friday. They provide counselling support services to all staff and students on-campus. You can reach them on 6201 2351.

If you have experienced or witnessed a safety issue or concern, no matter how big or small, report the incident on UC’s safe community website.

You can also call the Canberra Rape Crisis Centre 6247 2525 for more support.

If you are in danger, call triple zero (000).

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