This article was submitted by NUPSA Communications Officer, Sarah James.


 

The end of July marked the one-year anniversary of Universities Australia’s landmark Changing the Course: National Report on Sexual Assault and Sexual Harassment at Australian Universities. Widely considered a prompt for change, the 2017 report was the first national student survey on sexual harassment and assault.

And the results were pretty damning.

On a national scale, 45 per cent of postgraduate students reported having been sexually harassed. Just to highlight the extent of this issue:

  • One in ten postgraduate students who were sexually harassed at university reported that the perpetrator was a lecturer or tutor;
  • Postgraduate students were four times more likely than undergraduate students to be harassed by a colleague while working at the university; and
  • Postgraduate students were three times more likely to be harassed by a supervisor as part of a work placement.

At the University of Newcastle, 14 official complaints were made between 2014 and 2016.

It’s also important to remember these figures don’t highlight the true extent of the issue. The statistics only reflect those who actually reported their harassment or assault. There are undoubtedly more cases of students who have been unfairly subjected to sexual misconduct.

One year on from this critical turning point, it raises the question of whether the University of Newcastle has done enough to implement the actions needed to wipe out systemic harassment and abuse.

 

So what is UON actually doing?

The University of Newcastle is working as part of the Respect. Now. Always strategy, a national movement by universities across Australia designed to prevent sexual harassment and assault, as well as providing greater support for survivors.

UON’s approach moving forward has been two-pronged: Improve education and prevention strategies, while also improving the accessibility of support services.

As part of its prevention strategies, everyone reading this would have had to complete the online Consent Matters module this year. Previously, this was only mandatory for students living in residential colleges – now it is mandatory for all UON students.

UON has also updated reporting procedures and worked on improving awareness of reporting avenues. Our University’s sexual harassment and assault reporting procedures previously came under scrutiny this year, with Hack showcasing an example where a student only had 500 characters to describe the incident. These reporting procedures have since been made easier to access, with a new web-based reporting form and mobile app. There are now two main reporting options for UON (excluding police options):

  • Sexual Misconduct Online Reporting Form: Allows survivors to lodge an anonymous report of sexual misconduct regarding a student or staff member of UON.
  • Formal Sexual Misconduct Report: Survivors must log-in using student or staff details. This report will be referred to the Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Academic) for investigation according to the Student Conduct Rule.

 

In terms of providing support, a new counselling triage service has been established, facilitated by trained health care professionals. UON has also been actively identifying staff who are most likely to receive disclosures about incidents of sexual harassment or abuse, and providing them with specialist information and training. According to Pro Vice-Chancellor Learning & Teaching, Professor Liz Burd, more than one hundred first responders in the uni have been trained. Three hundred staff have also completed the online training module, Responding to Disclosures of Sexual Violence, so that should a situation arise, they are confident and able to provide the best support possible.

While it is unknown how effective these measures have been at this stage, it is clear that long-term reform is needed to eradicate the culture of sexual harassment and assault at universities. UON has pledged its commitment to working with the student community to develop new guidelines between staff and students, as well as providing the best possible support for survivors.

“It is important for UoN to continue to accelerate its actions against sexual misconduct on campus, and remain actively engaged with the recommendations put forward by UA and CAPA,” writes NUPSA President, Ash McIntyre. “I encourage students to remain aware of the steps taken by the University, and to continue to hold UON accountable for making progress as we move forward and address the issue nationwide.”

 

Sarah James is NUPSA’s Communications Officer. You can contact her at nupsa@newcastle.edu.au.

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