To our UoN community,

It’s been two months since the Australian Human Rights Commission has released Change the Course: National Report on Sexual Assault and Sexual Harassment at Australian Universities.  The University of Newcastle (UoN) responded stating they were changing policies. Some of these are vague but nonetheless, UoN’s corporate social responsibility shines vividly across the media storm. Responses include increasing awareness; rolling out the consent matters modules as compulsory to all students; providing training to staff about how to respond to disclosures and; improving counselling services. UoN claims that other measures are being taken such as the security bus; improved campus lighting and; an expanded CCTV system. Other ongoing actions include further research and targeted orientation and education programs.

Despite this, there are some fundamental issues with the University’s response that fail to incorporate a cultural change. The university’s response fails to address the nuances of sexual violence and rape culture. For a national report to present that 92% of UoN students did not report their experience in 2015-2016 only reinforces the need for UoN to step up and take responsibility. These statistics are a shocking reality. 36% of our students know very little about where to go within the University to make a complaint. This is beyond disappointing to say the least. The most common reason why our university community did not report or seek help was because they did not think it was serious enough. The University of Newcastle needs be held accountable for such a reality. Without accepting accountability, any commitment taken on by the University cannot be fulfilled in a way that addresses this as a societal issue. Students need to be given the skills and tools to be able to think critically. Approaches such as the Consent Matters module run the risk of being viewed as a burden on students.

The UoN Wom*n’s Collective takes a 100% no tolerance stance to any manifestation of rape culture and victim blaming. It must be reinforced that the University’s commitments, such as increased lighting, should not be conflated exclusively with sexual assault. Survivors should not have their experience of the reporting process made anymore difficult. Further, these experiences on campus are not only gendered, but also racially fuelled. This needs to be taken into serious consideration when implementing policy changes. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women are between three and three and a half times more likely than non-Indigenous women to be victims or sexual violence. This is an ongoing remnant of 250 years of structural genocide. As well as this, the University’s commitments do not directly address the reality that 72% of Trans people have experienced sexual harassment since 2016, and 45% on campus. Whilst 39% of people who identified as “gay/lesbian/homosexual” had experienced sexual harassment on campus, 23% of “straight/heterosexual” people had experienced this. Although these figures may be traumatising for many, it is important to recognise that marginalised groups in our society experience oppression depending on the space and context they are in. For this reason, we recognise autonomous groups such as the Indigenous Collective, Queer Collective and Wom*n’s Collective as vital spaces. Spaces for rallying against the prevailing forms of oppression these groups continue to experience as well as providing a safe and supportive space.

NUSA and the Wom*n’s Collective are reaffirming their continual commitment to support survivors. The Collective will work with the University to improve their policies and procedures. This is a sensitive and important area. Every action the Wom*n’s Collective takes must be underpinned by effective and supported research. Our actions must aim to minimise the re-traumatisation of survivors. It is also important to note that many members, including executive, within NUSA and the Wom*n’s Collective are also survivors of assault; highlighting the physical reality of this issue.

In spite of this, some students are still frustrated and feel that the University’s response is not enough. Rightly so, some students are unhappy with having to see perpetrators on campus, or even in classrooms. In this regard, the Wom*n’s Collective view this measure as something that needs to be reconsidered. Survivors have had their trust and their validity stripped from them. It only makes sense to assist survivors by trying to regain their trust in the University.

Next year, the Wom*n’s Collective will be rolling out a number of autonomous* and non-autonomous** workshops that are specific for survivors of sexual assault. These workshops are in joint partnership with Campus Care. This is a program headed by UoN that aims to provide information, advice and support in managing inappropriate, concerning or threatening behaviours in a safe and confidential environment. Campus Care have expressed a keen interest in working with NUSA. They recognise the importance of directly engaging with the people who are affected by sexual violence.

The Wom*n’s Collective are also pushing for external evaluations on the existing modules and workshops that are designed to educate students on consent. The Collective feel that it is only necessary to evaluate the most recent experience of University’s commitments. The Collective will consult and engage with students to push for change from there. The University has simplified and centralised reporting systems and access to counselling. The requirement to explain the incident within 500 words was quickly removed. Members of the Wom*n’s Collective informed the Campus Care of this issue. There is now no word limit on reporting.

Since the media storm, there has been limited discussion on the matter. During the same week as the release of the report, the University held a number of information sessions on the report. Michael Labone, President of NUSA attended, stating that “the information sessions were really good. The University showed that they are taking this matter seriously and I think it was a good first step in the right direction”. However, the University needs to consider the perspectives and experience the autonomous Collectives have to offer in assisting with sexual assault on campus. We must all work together and cooperate in a way that can only benefit the experiences of students.

 

 

If you or someone you know are impacted by sexual assault within university communities, there are a number of resources that you can reach out to.

National Sexual Assault & Domestic Violence National Help Line: 1800 Respect (1800 737 732)(This service has been privatised and there are concerns about the quality of care since this has occured. We have included this number as it is another resources for surivovors to use amoungst the many others listed)

Campus Security: (02) 4921 5888 24/7 – for any emergencies on campus

Campus Care: (32) 4921 8600 Mon- Fri

NSW Rape Crisis Centre for telephone and online counselling. Ph: 1800 424 017

National Counselling Helpline for sexual assault and domestic violence. Ph: 1800 737 732

Counselling Appointments at UoN: https://uonblogs.newcastle.edu.au/…/booking-appointments/

Information about Sexual assault and Harassment at UoN: https://www.newcastle.edu.au/…/managing-allegations-of

Consent Matters Initiative: https://www.newcastle.edu.au/…/your…/consentmatters

Lifeline: 13 11 14

Online Counselling through UoN: https://uonblogs.newcastle.edu.au/…/online-support/blog/

Reporting Sexual Misconduct at UoN: https://www.newcastle.edu.au/…/reporting-sexual-misconduct

 

*autonomous in this context refers to the workshop and Collective being organized and self-governed by cis-gendered and trans-gendered women identifying people, and non-binary people.

**non-autonomous in this context refers to workshops not specific to those who are cis-gendered, trans-gendered women identifying people, or non-binary people but rather, open to anyone.

by Liz Murphy-May (Wom*n’s Convenor)