WHEN ZERO TOLERANCE MEANS ZERO ACTION – 18 March 2021
Jack Buksh, UMSU President
Mickhaella Ermita and Srishti Chatterjee, Womens Officers
CW: Sexual Assault and Harassment
Professor Alan Lopez has retained his roles at the University of Melbourne despite an independent workplace investigation finding that he had sexually harassed a young female colleague, in direct contrast to the University’s commitment to ‘zero tolerance.’ This is yet more evidence of the University’s failure to implement recommendations made in the Australian Human Rights Commission’s (AHRC) ‘Change the Course’ report in 2017.
Vice Chancellor Duncan Maskell has said sexual harassment “has no place at our University or in our society”, and has publicly stated a “zero tolerance” for sexual harassment, which gives the University the right to take any “appropriate or necessary lawful action” against those found to have engaged in alleged sexual harassment.
When it comes to light, however, and culpability is determined by an independent investigation, what action is taken? In the case of Professor Lopez it would appear the answer is not much. Despite the Vice Chancellor’s assurances, a recent UMSU report confirmed there is much to be done by the University, which has yet to follow through on any of the key recommendations of the Change the Course report of four years ago to improve safety on campus.
The Change the Course report found that, each year:
- 26% of students are sexually harassed in a university setting.
- 6.9% report sexual assault on at least one occasion,
- 1.6% report sexual assault in a university setting.
These traumatic experiences are all too familiar to students – if it hasn’t happened to them, it has happened to someone they know. Even more alarmingly, given the VC’s words, students are still much less likely to report their experience than young people outside the institution, demonstrating that students have zero confidence in ‘zero tolerance’.
The University has repeatedly fallen short in its obligations to guarantee a safe and inclusive environment for its staff and students. UMSU student representatives, in consultation with the student body, have developed an action plan, with ten key areas highlighted for improvement:
- Create a stand-alone sexual assault and harassment policy (including stalking and relationship violence), that is mandated across all UoM departments and affiliates, including residential colleges. This policy should be developed in conjunction with those with lived experience and subject matter experts. It should focus on reporting as a process, rather than a singular decision.
- Move all reporting and therapeutic services, including anonymous reporting, away from university administrative premises into a stand-alone ‘Health and Wellbeing Centre’. All reporting and therapeutic services should reflect the diversity of the university community.
- Publish clear guidelines, in multiple languages, about reporting, complaint, investigation, and adjudication processes.
- Publish clear information about the breadth and diversity of sexual and relationship harms, to promote reporting from as many groups and communities within UoM as possible.
- Publish annual figures (appropriately anonymised) for reporting, complaint, and adjudication, to promote transparency in decision-making and development of a genuine ‘zero tolerance’ approach.
- Develop an independent investigative process, including appropriately trained staff, available to all departments and affiliates of UoM.
- Maintain one investigative process for all complaints, whether student or staff. This should include all graduate students and those on placement with external agencies.
- Develop alternative justice and resolution processes, with appropriately trained and supported staff, made available across UoM and affiliates.
- Develop appropriate educational resources, alongside students, to define UoM culture and expectations, and assist students in developing positive relationships.
- Develop a liaison committee, including representatives from key community agencies and services.
The University is showing its true colours once again – protecting perpetrators at the expense of survivors.
Enough is enough. It is time the University or Melbourne takes responsibility for the sexual assault and harassment that occurs on its watch. This latest finding comes at yet another time when issues of gender equality, sexual harassment and sexual assault in Australia are being met with public demand for action and change to occur. This is not the first time Australia’s number one university has been exposed for its failure to act in the interests of survivors.
The Vice Chancellor has recycled his “zero tolerance” approach to sexual assault and sexual harassment. Yet when sexual assault and sexual harassment occur it looks more like a policy of zero action.
The University has been told what it needs to do. Survivors, and students, should not have to wait a single second longer for this university to act. Demand the University take action now.Sign the Petition
1800 Respect national helpline: 1800 737 732
Lifeline: 131 114