As university gets underway for another year, there are a few things I would like to say to all students, new and returning:
University should be a safe place for all students, somewhere you can learn and be yourself without fear. Your time at university should be one of the best periods of your life.
However, despite the freedom that this chapter of your life might bring, remember that your actions do not only affect you and can impact the entire university community.
A recent report released by End Rape on Campus reveals an alarming prevalence of sexual harassment and assault on university campuses. According to the report, despite over 500 cases of sexual harassment and assault being reported to Australian universities over a five-year period, only six students have been removed from university in that time.
It is everyone’s responsibility to maintain a safe and welcoming campus environment. There are a few simple ways you can do this. These include:
- Ensuring that you’re seeking out consent. Consent is when someone agrees, gives permission, or says “yes” to an activity with someone else. Consent is always freely given and all people in a situation must feel that they are able to say “yes” or “no” or stop the situation at any point. Consent may not be able to be given if a person is drunk and does not fully understand the situation they’re in. This video uses a pretty cool tea analogy to explain consent.
- Understand that sexual violence occurs on a continuum, including behaviours ranging from sexist jokes through to sexual assault and these these acts are intrinsically linked to each other.
- Acknowledging that sexual harassment and harassment is the sole responsibility of the perpetrator. This is regardless of how the victim was behaving, what they were wearing or their alcohol intake. In the same way that you wouldn’t blame someone for getting their car stolen because it was flashy and new, don’t blame a person for being sexually assaulted just because of what they were wearing.
As much as the issue of safety on campus is the responsibility of individuals, it is also a systemic problem. This means it needs to be addressed by education institutions through policy, education and by ensuring reporting procedures are transparent and accessible. A critical component of this is ensuring that appropriate action is taken when incidents of sexual violence are reported.
As students we need to feel confident that reporting and investigation processes will work for us.
Last year, Universities Australia conducted the first ever Australia wide survey on sexual assault at universities. If you were a student last year, you may remember filling out this survey. The results are due to be released this year, with university specific data provided to each university. This is a monumental step in the journey to make campuses safer for all students. This the first time we will have statistically significant data about students’ experiences with sexual assault on campus, and we’ll be able to understand specific insights about the experiences of marginalised groups on campus.
UMSU is appalled by the findings of the End Rape on Campus survey. We are committed to ensuring that all students are able to feel safe on campus. To this end, we will be continuing to work with the University to implement long term change.
If you would like to get in touch with us about this issue, or would like to be involved in our ongoing campaign for a safe campus, free of sexual harassment and violence, please get in contact with the UMSU Women’s department.
The University’s Safer Communities team can also provide advice and assistance to students who have been the victims of sexual violence. They can be contacted at safercommunity.unimelb.edu.au or on (03) 9035 8675.
Here are some additional resources:
Safer Community Program
(03) 9035 8675
1800RESPECT – National counselling helpline, information and support 24/7
1800 737 732
Sexual Assault Crisis Line
1800 806 292
Women’s Health Clinics