University initiates reforms of sexual harassment policy

harassvigil

In the wake of national public outcry over its mishandling of a campus sexual harassment case, the University of Sydney is set to undertake reforms of its sexual harassment policy.

Serious inadequacies in the University’s harassment policies and infrastructure were brought to light last month, when a female student revealed that she had been left without support from the University for more than six months after another student circulated naked picture of her without her consent.

“I had to fight to get Student Affairs to consider it a breach of misconduct and investigate my claim. It took months to process it (from January to August),” the woman said.  “I…was given no help or direction from the Head of Student Affairs.”

Reports on the incident in Honi Soit and Fairfax Media sparked outrage on campus and across the country.

Student representatives from the SRC and University of Sydney Union have since been lobbying for broad reforms to the way the University handles sexual harassment and assault.

Earlier this month, news.com.au reported that the University had agreed to remove the perpetrator from his position as a Residential Officer at university-owned accommodation after meeting of the Student Consultative Committee (SCC). The University has also begun campus-wide distribution of posters advertising the RPAH Sexual Assault Service in response to suggestions from students in the SCC.

Jordi Austin, the Director of Student Support Services, has confirmed that the University will continue to work with student representatives over coming weeks to develop a “road map” for policy reform.

USU Vice-President Bebe D’Souza said that student representatives were in discussions with the University

“At the moment the focus is on figuring out what process of consultation we should undertake to achieve the best possible outcomes from a policy perspective,” she said.

D’Souza said she and her fellow student representatives had primarily been lobbying to have an independent inquiry into sexual harassment at USyd, similar to that conducted by Sex Discrimination Commissioner Elizabeth Broderick at the Australian Defence Force Academy last year. She said representatives believed a wholly independent inquiry would be necessary to empower students to speak up about sexual harassment on campus.

“If you feel like you’ve been failed by the University over a sexual harassment or assault experience on campus, you don’t want to put trust or faith in the people that were unable to help you in the first place,” she said.

D’Souza said the University had seemed open to this suggestion.

She also outlined a number of additional measures that had been discussed with the University in recent weeks, including:

  • The distribution of a university-wide survey — similar to that commissioned by the Australia Defence Force Academy in 2013 following asexual harassment scandal — to investigate the prevalence of sexual harassment on USyd campus;
  • Campus forums to allow students to voice concerns in person; and
  • An awareness campaign promoting students’ sexual rights and responsibilities on campus at the beginning of the 2015 academic year.

CALL-OUT:  Honi is putting together an investigation on sexual harassment and intimate violence at USyd. Do you have a story that you would like to share? We can provide anonymity if required. Email honiinvestigates@gmail.com

If you or someone you know has either experienced sexual assault or feels confused/ unsure about an unwanted sexual experience and would like to speak with someone, please contact RPAH Sexual Assault Service on (02) 9515 9040 8.30-5pm weekdays or (02) 9515 6111 anytime if the sexual assault happened in the last 7 days.

 If you have any opinion on the forms that consultation should take, please email b.dsouza@usu.edu.au

Georgia Behrens
  • Concerned Citizen

    Be careful what you wish for, because it might come true with unintended consequences.

    1: the university should not be responsible for “investigating” crimes that are reportable to police. The university does have some responsibility to ensure a safe studying environment on campus.
    2: to what extent is the university responsible for monitoring, restricting, policing or punishing actions by students on or off campus, that may or may not be related to the students candidature
    3: what actions (or inactions) should be covered? (Eg might behaviour at a student “protest” be subject to extended powers of the university eg Julie Bishop incident).