TRIGGER WARNING: This article contains information about sexual harassment which may be triggering to victims.
Investigation by Angela Heathcote
In May of last year, a complaint was made in regards to a member of the SciFi Society’s behaviour. This member had routinely harassed a number of female members of the group by throwing coins down their shirts, commenting on their looks and engaging in unwanted conversations of a sexual nature.
Campus Engagement attempted to address the issue by supervising meetings between those affected by the harassment and the perpetrator. After the member’s behaviour persisted, the society complained once again to Campus Engagement, insisting that the club felt this went beyond the scope of the actions they could take as a society.
Campus Engagement – the body that deals with student group funding and organisation – is not equipped to deal with complaints this serious. Rather, Campus Engagement is required to forward these types of complaints to either the Deputy Vice Chancellor of Students and Registrar or the Disciplinary Committee, as well as Campus Wellbeing.
It took approximately 42 days for Campus Engagement to take the matter to the Disciplinary Committee.
In leaked correspondence to Grapeshot, a Campus Engagement staff member responds to a SciFi executive’s complaint by suggesting that the group should try again to solve the issue of sexual harassment on their own.
The correspondence reads:
“I understand you are frustrated, however I have now had two meetings with the society, one where I specifically gave you all an opening to address these issues with [name withheld] present and no one decided to take it…Have you brought this up directly with [name withheld]? What I would like to see is the group actively trying to resolve it together… If people are acting inappropriately then the first response should be open.”
When Grapeshot contacted a former executive member of the SciFi Society they said, “of course we weren’t going to say anything, [the member] was right there in front of us”. Despite feeling ill-equipped and uncomfortable in resolving the issue by themselves, the group did make several attempts to confront the perpetrator, yet the sexual harassment persisted.
Another former member of SciFi and CosMac stated, “Ever since I started at Macquarie, it’s been problem after problem. From the incompetencies of Campus Engagement, to the sexual harassment; when will they realise that this is a serious problem? How many women have to be violated before adequate punishments are implemented instead of a simple ‘slap on the wrists'”.
Later correspondence between the SciFi executive and the Campus Engagement staff member suggests that because no one who was directly impacted by the sexual harassment wanted to come forward and voice their complaints, they had to assume that there was no longer an issue.
Campus Engagement’s reluctance to further the initial complaint then resulted in the perpetrator sitting on a number of executive teams, including Women in Science and Engineering (WISE).
When a SciFi executive noticed that the perpetrator of sexual harassment sat on the General Executive of WISE, they immediately contacted Campus Engagement once again out of concern for its female members. The staff member dismissed this member again, as their complaint was still a “second hand report” despite over eight different screenshots of this member’s behaviour and various witnesses.
In 2012, Elizabeth Broderick of the Australian Human Rights Commission examined the pivotal role of bystanders in combatting sexual harassment. The report determined, “The ‘hidden’ nature of sexual harassment makes it especially difficult to bring the problem to the surface. Creative and innovative approaches are required. One such approach is to enlist the help of bystanders; that is individuals who witness or are informed of sexual harassment”.
The executive of WISE immediately raised the issue with other members of their team who expressed concerns. Correspondence leaked to Grapeshot exhibit the executive of WISE demanding an immediate response.
“Strategic lines of action need to be taken against this. Equity and Diversity might have to step in if Campus Engagement is unable to address this matter … We have to do something about it.”
On the 8 June, the staff member from Campus Engagement agreed to meet and discuss the issues with the WISE executive, Kate Wilson, who at the time was the Director of Equity and Diversity, and Tatiana Lozano, who now runs the Respect.Now.Always project, which seeks to prevent sexual violence on campus.
After the consultation with Wilson and Lozano, they agreed to take the matter to the Disciplinary Committee, however, the executive of WISE remained wary:
“I am slightly concerned about the time it will take for the Disciplinary Committee to examine the situation because [the perpetrator is] now a General Officer for WISE. We had no idea about his background at the time of the Annual General Meeting. Shouldn’t he be removed from all committees whilst the situation and his actions are being assessed before he causes any further issues?”
While the member was eventually removed from WISE, the perpetrator currently sits on the executive of the Gaming and Computing Society and is an active member of CosMac.
As many of the executive bodies and members of SciFi, GACS and CosMac interconnect it allows for such behaviours to spread quickly. Leaked correspondence to Grapeshot demonstrates that the executives of GACS and CosMac do not intend to take actions to remove the individual from their clubs.
Rather members of the CosMac and GACS Executive are standing on an outdated Student Group affiliation agreement which has not been revised to effectively deal with issues of sexual harassment, such as a ‘banned from one, banned from all’ scheme.
One former member of SciFi commented that different forms of sexual harassment and sexism are common throughout all three groups. “People would say ‘be aware of this guy, or that guy'”.
A former member of GACS noted that the situation could be improved by a better female to male ratio on the executive teams.
When Grapeshot approached Campus Engagement for comment in regards to the way complaints were dealt with, the manager of Campus Engagement, Natalie Dainer, had this to say.
“Thank you for raising with me the concerns and issues that have been experienced by some students when raising complaints with the Campus Engagement office. I’m disappointed to hear that this has been their experience. I will initiate a review to strengthen the complaints process for Campus HQ and student groups. We have also begun working with the student Equity & Diversity team on an educational program, as well as the legal team to ensure the ongoing relevance of all Student Group affiliation agreements.”
If you are experiencing any distress, hardship or unpleasant experience, please contact Campus Wellbeing at 1800 CARE MQ (1800 2273 67)
If you’ve experienced sexual harassment or assault please contact Tatiana Lozano of the Respect.Now.Always Project at email@example.com
If you would like to make a direct complaint in regards to how your report was handled by Campus Engagement please contact Natalie Dainer at firstname.lastname@example.org.