August 1 marks the third anniversary of the Australian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) report into Sexual Assault and Harassment on Australian University Campuses. The initial results of the survey painted a distressing picture - the ANU ranked first in Australia for the percentage of students who had been sexually harassed at university, and second for the percentage of students who had been sexually assaulted at university.
Since 2017, there have been a number of changes that strive to make the campus safer for its students, with most of these changes being the result of tireless and relentless advocacy by student leaders. In 2018, the Respectful Relationships Unit was launched as a key body in addressing sexual violence on campus. In 2019, the Sexual Violence Prevention Strategy and the Online Reporting Tool were launched, two pivotal instruments in increasing the university's commitment to effectively prevent and respond to sexual violence across the university. This year, restorative justice, a practice that is survivor-focused and facilitates restoration and healing, is due to be piloted as a strategy at residential halls. We encourage the university to continue with, and then hopefully expand, this pilot across campus.
However, as much as these achievements are to be commended, students are still falling through the cracks. They are frequently let down by a system and an institutional culture that have been slow to change. Student leaders in this space have faced issues of communication from the university around keystone events, and past audiences with key groups have left student leaders feeling disempowered around how genuinely senior management view student input and activism in this area.
It has also been disappointing to see the Student Code of Conduct, a tool advocated for by student leaders and activists as a means to increase student safety from sexual harassment and sexual violence, being used by the university earlier this year as leverage to discourage student campaigners and activists. Furthermore, the lack of progress in bringing the current Staff Code Of Conduct in line with the new Student Code has led to inconsistencies in how the university responds to sexual violence and in the outcomes of these responses.
It is equally important that the Nous Review's recommendations continue to be implemented, especially at new halls that were not reviewed. The ANU must remain resolutely committed to not only responding to current student expectations, but being a driving force of change on our campus. Throughout 2020, residential hall student leaders have been committed to reaching out and collaborating with the RRU, and many would like to see a greater effort made to respond to the concerns and suggestions provided by those who live in residences. Feedback should not only be received positively, but indeed actively sought out. There should be developing relationships between the RRU and every residence, and indeed with student organisations across campus who seek to achieve similar ends.
We also hope that the lessons learnt during the last two years for a number of halls that were either established or involved in building changes are considered when new residences, such as SA8, are established. It is critical for support for all survivors that staff structures are able to provide pastoral care, and as we did a year ago in the Do Better ANU protests, we continue to call upon the ANU to install deputy head-equivalent positions in every residential hall.
- An increase in resourcing and logistical support to groups who provide support and drive cultural change on campus. Successful student engagement requires effective communication and effective advertising.
- A commitment to reforming the Staff Code of Conduct to bring it in line with student code.
- A commitment to not weaponise the Code of Conduct against student protest and freedom of speech.
- A commitment to not only accepting, but also actively seeking out, student feedback and cooperation with student leaders across campus.
- Recognition of the importance of multiple pastoral care staff positions at every hall on campus, and the implementation of Deputy Head-equivalent positions at every hall.
- A commitment to more transparent and accountable reporting and disclosing procedures.
- Survivor-led models of care towards students
We are further disappointed by the failure of the university to address domestic violence during COVID-19. In their annual survey, PARSA found that 2 per cent of students (20) indicated that they have been at risk of family and/or domestic violence due to the movement restrictions as part of the COVID-19, and a further 7 per cent said that they may have been at risk. While the Respectful Relationships Unit has done some work on the issue, we were disappointed at the lack of tailored resource creation for the ANU community and the lack of any distribution of those resources and outreach around domestic violence to students and staff. Failure to do so has resulted in student leaders and associations bearing the burden of support during COVID-19, despite already having limited resources to do so.
Lastly, we believe that many recent and past cases have demonstrated a continued lack of accountability in disclosure and reporting processes that have let students down. There must be clearer processes, more accountability mechanisms, and a structure that prioritises the care and support of survivors. Transparency not only improves systems through understanding what can be improved upon; transparency makes disclosing and reporting so much easier for all survivors. Understanding what processes there are, and how they work, are critical to the progress that the students of ANU deserve.
To survivors, we believe you, we support you, always and forever. We support and stand with those who throughout the years sought to hold institutions and perpetrators accountable for their actions.
- This is an open letter from the ANU Student Association, Postgraduate and Research Students' Association (PARSA) and Interhall Committee (IHC)