ACT News

ANU pledges to stamp out sexual harrassment

Last year there were 21 reported incidents of unwanted sexual attention at the Australian National University, according to new Vice-Chancellor Brian Schmidt, who has pledged to make the campus a safe and respectful place for women.

At a welcoming ceremony for new students on Thursday, Professor Schmidt said the incidents ranged from cyber bullying to unwanted advances and to unwanted sex.

"We know there are more that were not reported. This isn't a part of who we are, or who you should be. Led by the ANU Women's Department, our students created in 2012 a pledge that captures what type of community we are. "

"I will be asking all of you to join me in making this pledge …I believe everyone should be safe from interpersonal violence, sexual harassment and assault. I believe harassment and assault are the fault of the person using violence, not the person subjected to violence. I pledge to help my campus be a safe place for everyone."

The welcome ceremony also heard from ANU graduate and newly-announced Australian of the Year General David Morrison, whose aggressive response to sexual harassment within the army made international headlines when he asked any members of the army who did not support an inclusive culture to "get out".

General Morrison paid his respects to the courage of victims of domestic violence across the country.

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While he noted that he was a failed law student, eventually graduating from ANU in 1978 with a "gentleman's degree in the arts", General Morrison said his education had allowed him untold opportunity. It had also provided him with the perspective to identify how others had been denied an opportunity to contribute because of their gender, sexuality, ethnicity or disability.

"Because of my education, I can see the hurdles in my life are lower than those that many others were asked to leap. Life is not a level playing field. It is very competitive…we just need to ensure that competition in life is as fair as we can devise it so everyone gets their chance to reach their full potential."

Professor Schmidt said the ANU was "committed to providing opportunity equally to women and men, equally to Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians, equally to people living with a disability, and equally to those who aspire to do great things regardless of gender identity and sexual orientation, religion, ethnicity or socioeconomic status".

"A culture that promotes a happy and safe place to study. A culture defined by trust and respect. A culture where we are all proud to be part of the national university."

Professor Schmidt asked all new students to have fun but in a "respectful way".

In relation to the 21 reported incidents of last year, a spokeswoman for the ANU said the right to choose to report matters to the police rested with the victim and it was a right the university respected.

"The university's first priority when dealing with cases of unwanted sexual attention is to provide a high level of support through counselling and access to services. We do everything we can to support students to report incidents to the police and medical authorities. The university, working with the students, runs training and awareness programs aimed at preventing unwanted sexual contact and has committed to reporting annually on the number of incidents," she said.

Anyone wanting advice on an incident could contact the following:

Canberra Rape Crisis Centre 02 6247 2525.
Canberra Hospital 02 6244 2222.
Australian Federal Police 131 444.

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