Words || Angus Dalton
Macquarie University has launched a new online support resource ahead of the release of the Human Rights Commission’s report on sexual harassment and assault on Australia’s university campuses.
The webpage provides contacts for emergency situations, medical support, and counselling services, and contains legal information about consent and what constitutes sexual harassment and assault.
The page also provides practical steps about how to respond to someone’s disclosure of sexual assault.
The launch of the webpage comes as universities are forced to confront their past inadequacies in supporting students affected by sexual violence following pressure from student activists.
Last weekend, members of Macquarie University’s Women’s Collective attended the NOWSA (Network of Women Students Australia) conference in Canberra, and helped stage a protest in front of Parliament House.
The protest demanded that the government establish a permanent national trauma-informed hotline for survivors of sexual assault at university and called for state governments to mandate a base-level sexual misconduct plan that all universities must adhere to. Activist also demanded the introduction of a federal complaints mechanism able to hold universities to account, similar to Title IX in the US.
For decades, feminist and student activists have been telling universities across this country to reform their policies, their sanctions, their reporting procedures. We demand change now, and we will not wait another 50 years. END SEXUAL VIOLENCE ON OUR CAMPUSES
Posted by Jasmine Noud on Friday, 21 July 2017
‘Title 9 prevents discrimination on the basis of sex and gender in education facilities and many states see that as meaning that they have to respond and prevent sexual assault and sexual harassment,’ explains Jonathon Papadopoulo, the Project Officer for Student Equity and Diversity.
The absence of such legislation in Australia has contributed to the widespread under-reportage of sexual assault and a culture of anti-transparency that prioritises brand management over student welfare on Australian campuses. But that’s set to change with the release of the unprecedented survey results into sexual violence on campus tomorrow.
Jasmine Noud, President of Macquarie University’s Women’s Collective, attributes the current groundswell of support for those impacted by sexual violence and the incoming changes to university policy to the activism of past and present students.
‘Universities like to take credit for the changes because at the end of the day they are the ones signing off on new policies, but changes would never be made without the lobbying and actions of student activists,’ Noud told Grapeshot on her return from NOWSA. ‘Universities are businesses, and realistically they focus entirely on protecting their brand; student activism and uproar threatens that brand, and forces universities into ‘damage control’, which can and has included changing policies and cultures.’
The protests at Parliament also called for vicarious trauma training to be provided to all staff and students on campus who may receive disclosures of sexual assault and harassment.
A survivor of sexual assault might take months or years to disclose their experience to someone they know, and the way that person reacts, research shows, is vital.
‘Literature in this area explains that the first response to someone’s disclosure is “critical” to their wellbeing,’ says Jonathon Papadopoulo, who has spent the majority of this year designing the new support page. ‘What this means is a supportive response will help make the person feel safe, and they are more likely to seek support. On the other hand, non-supportive responses can further traumatise the person.’
Papadopoulo says it is imperative that you respond in a supportive, sympathetic way, and affirm that it was not their fault.
‘Perpetrators are responsible for their own actions,’ Papadopoulo states.
Papadopoulo and Tatiana Lozano, the leader of Macquarie’s branch of the Respect.Now.Always. campaign against sexual violence, consulted with students extensively as the site was developed.
‘The level of student consultation on this was quite excellent; the Respect Now Always team held multiple student consultations on their general campaign but also regarding the content and design of the website, and went out of their way to arrange extra consultations with myself and the WoCo team when red flags about certain information were raised,’ says Noud.
The new website can be accessed with the url www.mq.edu.au/respect.
‘The newly launched RNA Support website is a very important step on the part of the university to demonstrate their willingness to support survivors of assault and harassment, and is a vast improvement on past ‘support’ pages,’ says Noud. ‘However, in the grand scheme of things, this is a very small step and the university must do much more in regards to their policies on sexual assault and harassment.’
A speaker event will be held tomorrow for the release of survey results, and women’s collectives and student representative bodies from Macquarie University, UTS, University of Sydney and UNSW will be hosting a protest at Sydney Uni on 2 August.