Still off course

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Words || Erin Christie

[Content warning: This article discusses sexual assault and harassment]

In light of a year passing since the release of the Change the Course report, the Macquarie University Women’s Collective have publicly released a letter addressed to the Vice Chancellor of the university, Professor S Bruce Dowton. The letter addresses the lack of action taken in regard to campus sexual assault and harassment over the last twelve months. It also reiterates demands made by the Collective in August of 2017 which have not yet been met by the Vice Chancellor.

The Change the Course Report, released on August 1st, 2017, reported the findings from a national survey regarding student experience of sexual assault and harassment taking place on university campuses. This included their daily commute, as well as incidents that took place in university accommodation. The report found that one in five students were sexually harassed in a university setting, that 94% of students who were sexually harassed and 87% of students who were sexually assaulted did not make a formal complaint to their university, and 59% of students at Macquarie stated they did not know where to go in order to make a formal complaint. This inspired the Women’s Collective to publish a list of demands to address the issues published in the report.

However, in the opinion of the Women’s Collective none of these demands were effectively met within the last year, despite promises and assertions given by university administration. Their most recent letter reiterates these demands, drawing upon current issues to highlight the ongoing distress of students who are not receiving proper care and assistance regarding instances of sexual harassment and assault perpetrated against them. The letter speaks of a student who was forced to make five separate phone calls to the university before receiving the help required, due to a lack of knowledge regarding appropriate complaint mechanisms. This means the student would have possibly had to discuss her story multiple times, leading to possible re-traumatisation. Because of this, the Women’s Collective have demanded that more awareness is raised regarding how to properly report an instance of sexual assault or harassment within the university.

The Women’s Collective have also demanded that various training mechanisms are put in place in order to better the understanding surrounding sexual harassment and assault. They have requested that compulsory Vicarious Trauma and Responding with Compassion training for all staff and relevant student representatives be put in place by Semester 1 of 2019, after their previous request of having it put in place by Semester 1 of 2018 was not met.

They have also demanded greater education surrounding the nature of sexual violence and rape culture. The university has implemented the online module ‘Consent Matters’ as an explanatory course for students on the nature of consent. However, only 25c per student was spent on buying this module, a figure which the Women’s Collective believes is simply not a good enough investment in education regarding this crucially important issue.

The Collective also highlighted incidents taking place in Macquarie Village in order to demonstrate the current lack of safety in the area. This included students locking their bedroom doors at night due to break-ins, and the Village agreeing to accommodate a student who was expelled from Robert Menzies College in 2017 for sexual assault. Their demand is that a review of the safety of the Village be completed by an outside body, the findings of which should be acted upon immediately.

Finally, the Women’s Collective have requested that greater funding be allocated to Respect. Now. Always., the campus organisation that promotes awareness of sexual assault and harassment and runs free training workshops for staff and students on the nature of sexual assault, harassment and violence, and consent.

It should be noted that after recieving this letter, the Women’s Collective and the Vice Chancellor have met and held discussions on the way forward. Furthermore the university has since released its Respect Now Always action plan to combat sexual violence on campus.