USyd releases new sexual assault policy as students rally against university sexual violence

The policy includes a sexual assault reporting portal that has been widely criticised

USyd has unveiled a new sexual assault reporting portal which activists have slammed as deeply flawed during today’s National Day of Action rally against sexual violence at universities.

The portal is part of the University’s new policy for sexual assault and harassment, which was released today and disclosed in an email to all students.

USyd implemented the policy based on recommendations made in the Australian Human Rights Commission and Universities Australia’s Change the Course report.

The Students’ Representative Council (SRC), who were consulted for feedback, have come out strongly against the University for going ahead with the portal at this stage.

In their feedback to the University, SRC figures highlighted a number of critical problems with the portal, including that it currently times out after ten minutes, sets word limits on responses, requires a Unikey to sign in, and asks respondents to provide information such as their gender, sexuality and post-assault therapeutic history without any clear indication of which staff will be able to access the portal’s data.

The SRC have accused the University of rushing to release the portal in order that it coincides with the anniversary of the Change the Course report.

“The University is prioritising the press announcement and cheap reputational wins above doing the job properly”, SRC President Imogen Grant said.

“We will inevitably see University management use the portal to posture at being at the forefront of institutional reform when, in reality, they ignored the advice of anti-sexual assault advocates and went ahead with releasing a portal with critical flaws”, a move which Grant and the SRC have decried as “unethical and irresponsible”.

Today’s rally, organised by the NUS and USyd SRC’s Women’s Collective (WoCo), was attended by Federal Labor Party Deputy Leader Tanya Plibersek and NSW Greens Senator Lee Rhiannon.

At the rally, WoCo Officer Maddy Ward spoke about the portal, saying the University’s solution was “not good enough”.

Plibersek also spoke, delivering a message to the University in light of its response: “if you can’t fix it, the government has to step in and make you fix it.

“It is not right that students and staff feel unsafe at their place of work or study.”

Rhiannon joined Ward’s calls to abolish the colleges, saying it was “past cleaning them up.” Rhiannon also criticised the faulty reporting portal the University wanted to use.

In a statement given to Honi, USyd appears to have backed down on going ahead with the portal in its current state. A spokesperson said “we have received feedback from students that the online portal for reporting sexual assault has some technical issues.”

“We have already taken steps to amend some issues, including the removal of a time limit, and we will look to update the portal as soon as possible to allow anyone to make a disclosure.”

Other speakers at the rally from universities across Sydney spoke about the inadequate handling of sexual assault at their own institutions.

End Rape on Campus Australia today revealed that seven Australian universities, including Western Sydney University and the University of Notre Dame, had been still directing students to a sexual assault hotline that had its funding cancelled in November of last year.

Anna Hush, Director of EROC Australia and former USyd Women’s Officer called it “deeply irresponsible”, saying that “if universities are genuinely concerned about students’ access to trauma counselling, they should increase funding to these services on their own campuses, rather than overburdening already stretched community services.”

At USyd, aside from the new policy, the University and WoCo also made note of the upcoming St Paul’s review, which is due to be released later this year.