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Students find sexual harassment support inadequate

Siobhan Ryan reports

Source: The Hunting Ground - a documentary investigation into sexual assault on US campuses. Source: The Hunting Ground - a documentary investigation into sexual assault on US campuses.

A campus-wide survey into sexual harassment and assault has revealed 41 per cent of students who reported incidents found the University’s procedures did not help them at all.

According to the Safer Community for All survey, which was conducted last year, a further 27 per cent of students felt the procedures were helpful, but that more could be done.

Although most of the survey’s respondents believed the University has support services, they did not know where to locate them.

The survey results showed extremely low reporting rates, with only 4 per cent of students who had witnessed an incident reporting it to the University.

Reporting amongst male students was higher than national averages, with 30 per cent of undergraduate males reporting their experiences to the University.

The data, representing the views of over 2000 students, also identified non-binary and transgender students as disproportionately at risk of harassment and assault.

The Safer Community For All survey was developed by Student Services last year, following a 2014 Honi exposé into the University to address sexual harassment and assault on campus. The survey was conducted with the support of Elizabeth Broderick, the then Sex Discrimination Commissioner.

The survey’s results were revealed in a working group meeting of student representatives and members of University management on February 5.

Student representatives present at the meeting requested the full raw results of the survey, but were reportedly told they were confidential.

Honi contacted the Director of Student Services, Jordi Austin, and the Project Manager of the initiative, Sophia Barnes, for comment. They were both unavailable.

However, Austin told Honi that the results were yet to be presented to the Senior Executive Group (SEG), the body with the power to enforce any recommendations produced by the survey.

The recommendations of the working group so far include the development of a clear policy statement by the University, a sexual violence education program, review of security measures, and improved mechanisms for reporting and support services.

University of Sydney Union Wom*n’s Portfolio Holder, Tiffany Alexander, said one of the main themes of the working group discussion was the importance of “drawing in” people who did not see the issue as significant.

Students’ Representative Council Wom*n’s Officer, Anna Hush, expressed concern about the University analysing its own data rather than commissioning independent analysis. She believed this could lead the University to “downplay the issue.”

Hush also expressed the importance of having a dedicated page on the University’s website with resources and “clear, transparent ‘steps of action’ that you can take”. This was promised in 2014 when the campaign started, but has not yet come to fruition.

Feature image source: the Hunting Ground documentary.