The NSW Government has a critical responsibility in acting to prevent and respond adequately to sexual violence in educational communities, and to listen to and take extremely seriously the perspective of students on this issue. The NSW Government has a responsibility to oversee public educational institutions, and to enact sanctions when they fail to provide safe campuses for students.
Students have been voicing their stories, their struggles and their concerns on these issues for decades, and must no longer be ignored by university administrations or governments.
We, as student representatives, have been listening to students’ experiences of sexual violence, of institutional cover-ups, of inadequate prevention and support, for many years. As a result, we believe that the following must be done as a minimum, or else the NSW Government is failing to fulfill its responsibility to its constituents in the university community.
No less can be done than:
- Legislating and mandating on a State level the implementation of a Sexual Misconduct Action Plan in universities. This must contain as a baseline:
a. Standardised and comprehensive behavioural definitions of sexual assault and sexual harassment
b. Standardised and comprehensive reporting procedures that contain clear disciplinary consequences for offenders, within the scope of universities’ powers
c. Mandated availability of academic, legal, financial and housing support to survivors
d. Mandated intersectional consent, respect and bystander training for all university and college staff, as well as students. This training must be based on best-practice, evidence-based standards that have been established through research, such as Professor Moira Carmody’s ‘Sex and Ethics’ program.
e. Mandated physical and virtual on-campus services for reporting and support, which include trauma-specialist counselling staff. These services must be clearly promoted and accessible to culturally and linguistically diverse students and international students.
Universities may add extra support or prevention measures, but this minimum standard must be legislated and enforced.
These measures must be publicised and information about them widely distributed, not just on a website or mentioned in a single induction presentation, but reaffirmed on campus and within classrooms and residences on a continual basis, with the same rigour with which plagiarism procedures are enforced and disseminated.
2. A comprehensive review of the NSW Parliamentary Acts under which private colleges operate. Given ongoing reports of the high incidence of misogyny and sexual assault within these institutions, the NSW Government should review the legislation under which they operate, and consider whether these institutions have a place within our educational communities. In order to address education inequality, we recommend on-campus accommodation are affordable and run on a needs basis. In particular, it should be ensured that colleges and other residential accommodation services comply with university policies around sexual misconduct, and that disclosures or reports of sexual assault made to staff at the residence are reported to university administration. Such reports must be de-identified unless survivors consent to their name being included.
3. (Pressure from the NSW State Government calling on the Federal Government to) Establish a Federal complaints and compliance mechanism, such as that established under Title IX in the USA.
We note that the Higher Education Standards Framework (Threshold Standards) 2015 (Cth) and the National Code of Practice for Registration Authorities and Providers of Education and Training to Overseas Students 2007 may constitute such a mechanism – however, they are currently not accessible for survivors or advocates to make complaints about university mishandling of sexual misconduct. The Federal Government must strengthen these avenues to make them effective vehicles for holding universities accountable.
4. (Pressure from the NSW State Government calling on the Federal Government to)
Establish a national 1800 hotline that deals specifically with sexual misconduct within the past or present university community – dealing with both current and historical reports. This hotline should be operated by Rape & Domestic Violence Services Australia, the nationally recognised expert body in trauma-specialist counselling.
In addition to specific policies and services addressing sexual misconduct, there must also be additional changes to the landscape at university and prior educational institutions, as well as the response and support framework for survivors within the community. This includes but is not limited to:
- A real tackling of the culture of university colleges – a commitment to affordable on campus housing for those who need it, and the discontinuation of institutions with elitist and misogynistic cultures.
- The reinstatement of State Government funding that has been cut from refuge shelters, particularly women’s refuges, as well as sexual assault and counselling services.
- (Recognising the intersectional impact of sexual violence upon different communities)
Commitment to immediately fund the Safe Schools program in full, in its original iteration.
- Implementation of evidence-based respectful relationship and consent education in primary and secondary schools.
Further detail on the above recommendations can be found in End Rape on Campus Australia’s 2017 report, ‘Connecting the Dots: Understanding sexual assault in university communities’ (available online here).
Sydney University Postgraduate
Sydney University Postgraduate
University of Sydney SRC
Ambassador, End Rape on Campus Australia
2016 Women’s Officer, USyd SR