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Students of NSW universities pen open letter to Pru Goward MP

"We, as student representatives, have been listening to students’ experiences of sexual violence, of institutional cover-ups, of inadequate prevention and support, for many years."

The group of student representatives delivering the letter. Image: University of Sydney Women's Collective. The group of student representatives delivering the letter. Image: University of Sydney Women's Collective.

An open letter published jointly by a number of Students’ Representative Councils (SRCs) and women’s collectives across NSW is calling for a revolution in the treatment of sexual violence in educational communities.

The document, which is the first of its kind and written by representatives from the University of Sydney, University of New South Wales, University of Western Sydney, University of Technology Sydney and Macquarie University, positions its demands for change in protocols surrounding sexual violence as the foundations of a functioning university community.

While specifically addressed to Pru Goward, the NSW Minister for Prevention of Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault, the letter demands both state and federal governments take firm action on the issue. It calls for a number of measures be taken, including the reinstatement of the Safe Schools program, the standardisation of terms like ‘sexual assault’ and ‘sexual harassment’, the establishment of a national hotline to deal “specifically with sexual misconduct within the university community”, and the reinstatement of state funding to women’s refuge shelters.

According to University of Sydney SRC co-women’s officer Imogen Grant, the demands, which were delivered in person to Goward earlier today, are part of a cohesive plan for policy reform and are supported by End Rape on Campus Australia.

“This year I’ve had many students disclose their experiences of sexual assault. They’ve told me about toxic rape culture on campus and how navigating the university bureaucracy exacerbates trauma and often seems futile. Survivors continue to report that they are discredited, silenced, and their abuse minimised,” said Grant.

We published the letter in order to push a coordinated and cohesive vision for sexual assault policy for the State Government.

The collaborative action is largely in response to the NSW Government’s December 2016 Sexual Assault Strategy progress report, which focuses on audit and consultation as key areas of the strategy.

It is expected that the state government will seek public submissions on the issue, with a open portal to be released in the coming weeks.

Notably, clause two of the letter calls for a “comprehensive review of the NSW Parliamentary Acts under which private colleges operate” appearing to address the endemic culture of sexism which has been revealed throughout University colleges.

The clause calls not only for a review of the laws under which these colleges operate, but the reconsideration of the validity of these institutions in an educational environment.

This comes just days after the University of Sydney’s St. Paul’s College announced its decision to join the Elizabeth Broderick cultural review into university colleges, following highly-publicised allegations of sexist behavior in the college’s Facebook group.

The open letter can be read here.

Student services counters have been closed all across campus. Art: Rebekah Wright.

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