President’s News – 22 October 2021

CW // Discussions of sexual assault and harassment, without explicit detail.

 

UMSU welcomes the University’s recent Sexual Misconduct Prevention and Response Policy as an important step forward in creating a safer campus. The stand-alone policy, as well as the promise to publish annual figures, were recommendations from the National Students Safety Survey (NSSS) undertaken in 2016, and the top two items on the UMSU Top Ten Priorities list. It is a positive step that after five years, some are being implemented.  

 

While the announcement of this policy is an important first step, it is a first step that is overdue and incomplete, and with the next iteration of the NSSS underway it appears that it is timed to avoid potential criticism in the next round of recommendations.  

The policy is heavy on words but unsurprisingly light on action. We often hear the Vice Chancellor using strong words when talking about sexual assault and harassment on campus, but just like the VC’s statements, this policy isn’t backed up by concrete processes and actions.  

What UMSU consistently hears from students is that they don’t trust the process devised to deal with disclosure and the reporting of sexual assault and harassment on campus. The new policy does not address these issues. Students expect that the University’s policy would set out what happens when a report is made, who would undertake any investigation and how, and the process by which matters would be resolved. The policy includes none of these critical features so it is highly unlikely that students’ experience of reporting sexual harm will improve until these items are included.  

The new policy fails to explain the training required and standard operating procedures for the investigators and adjudicators who will be responsible for implementing the policy. While the University calls this policy ‘victim-centric and trauma-informed’, it cannot be either of these things until there is transparency about the process and the people involved.  

For this policy to be successful, there also needs to be an acknowledgement from the University that they have lost our trust through actions that don’t meet up with their words.  

Just this year, Professor Alan Lopez was the subject of an independent investigation which found that he, on the balance of probabilities, had ‘behaved inappropriately’ towards a female colleague. Lopez not only kept his job at the University, but had an award named after him. 

And last year, a $700,000 payout was made to another Professor accused of sexual assault, who retired, complete with farewell party.  

Time and time again, we have heard about a “zero-tolerance approach” from the Vice Chancellor and the University, but in practice zero tolerance means zero action.  

UMSU continues to call on the University to implement all 10 of UMSU’s priorities to achieve a safer campus. Until the University does this there will continue to be a vacuum of action at a University that has done too little too late.  

 

Link: University of Melbourne Sexual Misconduct Prevention and Response Policy.

Link: UMSU’s Top Ten Priorities List – Zero Tolerance for Zero Action.

 

If the contents of this article has caused you distress, or you need further support:

Centre Against Sexual Assault House: http://www.casahouse.com.au/ Phone 24 Hour hotline: 03 9635 3610
1800 Respect: https://www.1800respect.org.au/ Phone: 1800 737 732, Interpreter: 13 14 50
UMSU Sexual Harm and Response Coordinator; Dr. Patrick Tidmarsh Email: patrick.tidmarsh@union.unimelb.edu.au
UniMelb Safer Communities:  https://safercommunity.unimelb.edu.au/ Phone: 9035 8675

 

Additionally, UMSU has created the following webpage which has some similar resources but is catered for students facing relationship violence during the lockdown: https://umsu.unimelb.edu.au/support/covid-resources/positive-relationships-and-safety-at-home/

 

Media requests: press@union.unimelb.edu.au