The consultancy firm that ironed out sexual harassment policy for the Australian Navy will run the ruler over residential colleges at the Australian National University.
Nous Group, based in Canberra, won the tender to conduct the review for the university, in response to recommendations from a 2017 Australian Human Rights Commission report which named the ANU as among the worst universities in the nation for sexual violence.
College traditions including hazing, would be closely examined for their role in sexual assault and harassment, Pro Vice-Chancellor of university experience Professor Richard Baker said, as would a "worrying" culture of binge drinking.
While an earlier audit of the university's policies on sexual harassment and assault was criticised for not consulting with survivors, Professor Baker said this time around the ANU would be listening closely to students.
Training of residency staff and student leaders, along with levels of supervision and support in a 24 hour residential setting, would also be considered during the six-month-long review.
ANU Vice-Chancellor Professor Brian Schmidt put colleges "on notice" after the release of the 2017 survey, warning they could have their affiliation with the university revoked if they opted out of the review.
The sector-wide report found residencies were spaces of particular danger and detailed hazing rituals at some Australian university colleges including a "run the gauntlet" challenge, in which female students made their way down a corridor drinking from cask wine kept in the trousers of male residents.
Professor Schmidt said the review would be guided by advice from an expert panel, including the ACT's chief police officer Justine Saunders, and retired Vice Admiral Russell Crane who has a long history working on sexual misconduct in institutional settings.
“[It] will explore the culture within individual residences – both ANU owned and managed and affiliated residences- and...how [they] respond to reports of sexual assault and sexual harassment," Professor Schmidt said.
Details of how the review will work are still being ironed out, but are expected to include both focus groups and student surveys. Input would also be sought from students who had graduated up to five years ago.
More than twenty per cent of ANU students lived on campus last year, one of the highest rates in the country.
"That's why this review is so important," Professor Baker said. "We want to change the culture."
An audit of counselling services available at the university, including wait times, is also underway. While the review was another recommendation of the commission's report, it had fallen almost six months behind schedule due to changes in health management policy within the university, Professor Baker said.
The ANU has updated its discipline rule to include definitions of sexual assault and harassment, meaning the university can now treat such allegations as misconduct.
But clauses remain barring the ANU from acting upon complaints if a criminal investigation is under way, despite an independent review recommending in September this rule be reconsidered as "a matter of urgency".
Professor Baker said the university had received legal advice that it could not pursue any action once an incident became a police matter.
The ANU has introduced new training for staff and students responding to sexual assault and harassment, and beefed up its counselling services, with a Canberra Rape Crisis Centre staff member now available on campus five days a week.
If you or someone you know is impacted by sexual assault or family violence, call the Canberra Rape Crisis Centre on 02 6247 2525. Nationally, call 1800RESPECT on 1800 737 732. In an emergency contact 000.
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