A contingent of protesters congregated on Gadigal land at the Sydney Town Hall on Tuesday for the National Day of Action (NDA) against Sexual Assault.
The protest followed the release of the National Student Safety Survey (NSSS) two weeks ago, which revealed widespread issues with sexual assault and harassment at universities.
The main demands of protesters include comprehensive sex education, abolition of the colleges, and the construction of strong survivor networks. The event was an inter-university solidarity action organised by activists at the University of Sydney (USyd), University of Technology (UTS), and Macquarie University (MQ).
National Union of Students Women’s Officer Jacqueline Price criticised the failures of university reporting systems: “It is shameful that 1 in 2 students and 2 in 5 students knew nothing about the reporting system. Almost three quarters of students who went to the [Macquarie] University support services said it is not good enough.”
Another demand from activists was protections for female staff members against sexual violence.
UTS casual academic and NTEU branch member Matilda Fay (Tilly) commended her USyd comrades in the NTEU for fighting for 30-day Gender Affirmation leave as “it is essential for an overall wellbeing of the staff”.
“Corporate universities will always put profit over justice, and solidarity is our way to fight,” she said.
Fay also discussed the Enterprise Bargaining process for USyd and UTS staff. Under current industrial law, workers are allowed only to negotiate wages and work conditions with employers once every four years.
“The university casual workforce disproportionately impacts those from the marginalised communities and their safety will remain at the forefront of the NTEU fight,” Fay said.
The crowd chanted “How many? Too many!” in solidarity. Banners reading “End Rape Culture” crowded the Town Hall stairs.
Lydia Jupp, an activist with End Rape on Campus (EROC) activist Lydia Jupp expressed their frustrations with how little has changed over recent years, criticising the lack of government-led initiatives to end sexual violence in tertiary education.
“No Education Minister has mentioned the NSSS Report and the urgency of the situation,” Jupp said.
Macquarie University Women’s Collective co-President Racquel Soares called attention to the need for accredited and mandatory consent training, informed responses to disclosure, survivor-led services and approaches to student safety, and properly researched resources on reporting for victims of assault.
“We do not need surveys to show that sexual assault is an issue,” Soares said.
This was echoed by UTS Students’ Association president Anna Thieben, who talked about the need to have better counselling systems: “It is a shame that university counselling services are underfunded and overbooked.”.
“In 2021, only five reports of sexual assault were made by students directly. Fifty-seven reports were made by staff on behalf of the students. We know more incidents have occurred,” said Thieben.
The crowd responded with chants of “Red tape will not cover up rape”.
The action concluded with Yorta Yorta woman and advocate against sexual assault Anna Morgan, who expressed her tiredness at the state government’s inaction.
“We have had two surveys now and these issues have been reported previously. Enough is enough,” Morgan said.
She recounted her own experience of reporting assault to the police, saying “it made no difference”.
“Upon asking for updates on the case, the University said they cannot say anything as it affects the person’s confidentiality,” Morgan said.
The protesters gathered together on the Sydney Town Hall stairs repeating chants of “however we dress, wherever we go, yes means yes, no means no.”