Reliving trauma: Sexual harassment and assault reporting system at The University of Sydney

by Patricia Vera [ID: 450422030]

Nina Funnell, former University of Sydney student and tutor, was brutally assaulted on the day of her honours presentation. After going to the media, other students learnt about her and reached out to her with their own stories of rape, gang rape and sexual harassment. Are Australian universities doing enough to support victims of sexual harassment and assault?

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The University of Sydney has been heavily scrutinised and criticised by the media lately, due to recent sexual harassment and sexual assault cases. [Photo: Patricia Vera]
It is already dark at The University of Sydney (USYD) when the screening of The Hunting Ground is about to begin. There are several female students filling half of the seats, as the moderator introduces the event. The students seem to be avidly interested in the documentary and the panel discussion that will follow it.

A group of experts is sitting in the front row too. Dr Michael Spence, Vice-Chancellor of The University of Sydney, is one of them.

The screening is a USYD’s Women’s Collective initiative, in cooperation with The Hunting Ground Australia Project (THGAP).

Promotional picture and Facebook post for The Hunting Ground screening and panel discussion and The University of Sydney. [Post and photo: The Hunting Ground – Australia on Facebook]

When the lights go up again, the audience is silent. Some people seem to be in shock, some angry, but most of them seem to be resigned, as if the experiences shared in the documentary are part of a reality that they know well.

That is probably the case.

The moderator, Allison Henry, THGAP’s Campaign Director, breaks the silence by inviting the panellists to the stage. They talk about the documentary, about similarities to the Australian context, about definitions of sexual assault and consent, and positive attitudes that help victims of sexual assault to recover.

All panellists have already intervened when Ms Henry asks a simple, but important question to Nina Funnell, former University of Sydney student and tutor:

Can you tell us a little bit about your experience here at Sydney Uni?”

Nina Funnell, former University of Sydney student and tutor, telling stories sexual harassment and assault that happened at USYD, and also her own experience with violent assault.

When Ms Funnell finishes, she is shaking and her voice is trembling. The auditorium is silent once again.

Being sexually harassed or sexually assaulted is something that thousands of students around Australia have and are going through, and it is the reality of some USYD students as well.

Sexual harassment and assault surveys

The National Union of Students (NUS) women’s department 2015 study, Talk About It, says that more than 27% of respondents have experienced some form of sexual harassment while enrolled at their university, while 14% of respondents have experienced sexual assault.

On the other hand, USYD’s 2016 sexual harassment and assault survey, Safer Community for All, says that 24.7% of respondents have experienced sexual harassment, and 2.6% of respondents indicated that they have been sexually assaulted. 25% of them said that their assault happened on campus.

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Comparison of sexual assault and harassment percentages in the NUS and USYD surveys. [Graphic: Patricia Vera]

While the USYD numbers are lower than the ones in the NUS survey, Anna Hush, the Women’s Officer at the University of Sydney’s Students’ Representative Council (SRC), thinks that the reason behind this is that victims of sexual assault do not want to share their experience with the university.

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Comparison between results of the NUS and USYD surveys regarding reporting of sexual assault and sexual harassment to an official instance. [Graphic: Patricia Vera]
“Less than 2% of even the most serious cases are reported, which I think says that, if you have experienced sexual harassment or assault, it’s likely that you’re not going to do the survey because you don’t want to talk to the university about it,” Ms Hush said.

The survey, in fact, indicated that only 1.4% of the respondents reported their harassment or assault to the university.

What becomes clear from sexual violence statistics is that sexual assault is a real and severe issue that students have to deal with. While not ever case happens on campus (only 38.53% respondents reported that), universities need to be prepared to offer support, resources and appropriate reporting processes that will help students to deal with their trauma.

Sadly, this is where most universities fail.

The University of Sydney’s reporting process and victim support system

To report an incident of “unacceptable behaviour” at USYD, students need to fill an online complaints form that asks them to give personal details such as full name, student ID, phone number and email address.

Ms Funnel said that she does not know survivors who would feel comfortable using a complaint form like that because the university does not specify how it is going to use that information.

The lack of an appropriate reporting system is something that came up in the panel several times.

This issue is, in fact, something the survey recommends to “review”:

It is recommended that there be a further review of the incident and complaint handling mechanisms to clarify and simplify points of contact and procedures for incident reporting.

The USYD survey is part of a larger campaign, Safer Communities, which that encourages people to “speak out about unacceptable behaviour on campus.”

In its website, the university explains the process to follow in case of an emergency, which consists on dialling triple zero (and contacting the NSW police), calling campus security and contacting counselling services.

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The Safer Communities portal on the USYD website, which is located under Campus Life > Emergencies and personal safety. This is all the information available regarding sexual assault besides the Counselling services page. [Screenshots: Patricia Vera]

“The Counselling and Psychological Services team are able to assist students who wish to talk confidentially about an issue. This, occasionally, includes sexual harassment, assault or uncertainty about behaviours in relationships,” said Jordi Austin, Director of Student Support Services.

Dr Spence pointed out that campus security is being trained on how to manage sexual assault cases. Ms Austin added that “campus security teams are all undertaking first responder training, as well as ALLY and Pride in Diversity LGBTQI training.”

Student Support Services is also collaborating to increase awareness of the issue. “Sexual assault services posters have been in all bathrooms on campus, and we will continue to promote sources of assistance to students at orientation, through the student news and on the Safer Communities website,” Ms Austin said.

While the university is trying to improve its initial response team and the problem’s awareness, the main problem lies on the reporting process itself.

The implementation of the survey’s recommendations is, apparently, on its way, according to Ms Austin.

However, there is more that could be done, and USYD students seem to have a few ideas of what could be done to improve the system.

Ms Hush would like the university to do some kind of research on best practices to handle sexual assault cases. For the reporting process, she also suggested: “knowing that the information that you provide is kept confidential, knowing that the person who handles your complain is specially trained in responding to sexual harassment and assault, [and] providing a really clear time frame in which it’d be resolved.”

A student in the audience also criticised that victims do not get information about the outcome of their cases. Dr Spence explained that there are “legal restrictions” on what they are able to tell students, but he still thinks that “knowing what happens is a very important part of helping people.”

Karen Willis, Executive Director of Rape & Domestic Violence Services Australia, agrees, but she also said “the process is just as important in many instances as the outcome.” She believes that when survivors are included in the process, when they are listened to, informed and supported, they have a better chance at recovery.

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The University of Sydney has started taking baby steps towards the improvement of its reporting and support systems now, but it is not enough.

Going through a sexual harassment or assault experience can be devastating for the victim. People who have gone through it have already been failed by the system. The crime should have not happened, but sadly, the reality is that sexual harassment and assault are part of the everyday lives of some students.

Universities cannot and should not allow being part of the system that has failed them.

Survivors will have to live with their trauma, and the least that a university can do is to ensure they do not worsen the victim’s trauma through the reporting process, and to support them with appropriate resources.

It is time that the university does more and works harder for survivors because if it is not now, then when?

If you have experienced sexual harassment, sexual assault or domestic violence, and you are seeking for support, please call 1800RESPECT (1800 737 732) or NSW Rape Crisis (1800 424 017). These services provide 24/7 professional counselling over the phone. If you are feeling unsafe right now, call 000.

To contact the author of this story, email Patricia Vera [veram.patricia@gmail.com].

Deregistration aborted: religious clubs resurrected

by Winmas Yu (SID: 450536382)

Reflecting on the recent potential deregistration from the University of Sydney Union, the President of the Catholic Society has cited misunderstanding as the major reason that caused the incident.

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The University of Sydney Union retracted after calling religious clubs to remove “discriminatory clauses” in constitutions. Image: Winmas Yu

Continue reading

The biggest part of Australian tourism market—Chinese visitors

More and more Chinese visitors like to travel to Australia for their vacation, and the reason that why they choose Australia as their destination needs to be explored that can improve Australian tourism market developments. High quality environment, cheaper and high quality products and a chance of parents to join their child’s graduation are the three main reasons.

 

The increasing number of Chinese visitors has took the great status in Australian tourism market, Chinese visitors is the biggest consumer group. This situation has influence on the other filed in whole Australian society, such as overseas education and property investment. So the reason of Chinese are keen on traveling to Australia cannot be ignored.

 

The high quality of environment in Australia is the first thing to attractive Chinese visitor, especially the air quality. Owing to that Chinese air quality is in a worrying environment issue in Chinese society. PM 2.5 is the most serious issue especially in Beijing, moreover, PM 2.5 still has negative influence on citizen’s healthy. As a result, the high air quality will has the most attraction of Chinese tourists.

 

Chan Chen, who is a Chinese visitor traveling to Australia more than three times in five years, said, “I have travelled to Australia biennially, just because air quality in Australia better than China. I love the weather and the sunshine in Australia, which I cannot feel in China in several years.” Xin Cheng, who is a graduate of the University of Sydney, accompanied with her grandparents and parents, said, “I just want to let my grandparents to feel fresh air and sunshine.”

 

High air quality is taking the great part in choice of Chinese visitors during them making a travelling plan. Sunshine is also another aspect when visitors doing a choice, owing to that PM 2.5 blocking the sunshine, so people cannot receive Vitamin D, so there are some healthy issue in Chinese citizens.

 

Second aspect of reason that Chinese visitors choose Australia as the first choice is that the graduation of their child. To join graduate ceremony and taking a trip in Australia is the reason of most Chinese parents.

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Boshen Wang, who is a manager in a travel agency only for Chinese visitor, said, “Most of Chinese elder visitor travelling to Australia just for their children’s graduate ceremony, and this may the only chance to travel to overseas.” Boshen added, “Because the working schedule affects that they do not have the spare time to travel abroad. Owing to this situation, my company will give the different specific plan for different clients according to their own condition.” Ting Wang who is a mother of a student in the University of Sydney gave a statement about her own travelling experience. “I am very busy in daily working life, I do not have time to travel, not only for overseas trip, but also in domestic travel, if my daughter do not study in Sydney, and maybe I would never have a chance travel to Australia in recent years.” Moreover, she is a client of Boshen’s company, for the reason that she chose an agency for her trip, she said, “I just want to let my trip easily and find an agency to help me to do all the application thing and making a professional plan is better than I do this things by myself.” However, Qiuchen Xie, who is a mother for a student in the University of New South Wales, has different opinion. “I did travelling plan by my son and myself, in my person opinion, this time maybe is my the only chance to travel to Australia, so I want to do the suitable plan for myself, and the experience of the application is a good challenge for me.”

Owing to that more and more Chinese students study in Australia, the tourism market in Australia has been drove. The consumer group in this situation is Chinese parents. In another hand, this will also drive the education income of Australian university. These parents will spread good information of Australian education to their friends, which will attract more Chinese students study abroad.

 

Finally, the reason of Chinese visitors travel to Australia is cheaper and high quality stuffs. The quality of Chinese production is a serious issue, especially, the milk powder of baby. This is the reason that a new career named Daigou occurs, which is a group of Chinese people who study or live in overseas to do purchase to Chinese market in personal way. The most popular production is milk powder of baby.

 

Jie Shu is a manager of a souvenir shop, she said, “Many of my costumers are visitors from China, during the travelling process they will buy many Australian products for their friends and family. Some of them we called MPB (Milk Powder Buyer).” One of the interviewees in the shop said, “I do not want to let my name in a feature, but I can tell my personal experience about the aim of my travelling. When the first time I travelled to Sydney, some of my friends asked me to buy some milk powder for their little baby, and I found it is a good way to earn some money during my trip, I know it is illegal, but this really attract me to do this business. And the cheaper production is really good for me to send gift for my friends and for myself.”

 

Despite buying some souvenirs during trip is an illegal way to earn money, but still many Chinese visitors doing this kind of business. Moreover, cheaper production really attracts some young ladies to travel to Australia to buy it.

 

As for Chinese visitors, Australia is heaven of travelling. High quality environment, cheaper products and suitable travelling service specific for Chinese parents, these elements are the good for Chinese visitors experience in Australia.

 

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USYD Freedom of Association at Stake

by Winmas Yu (SID: 450536382)

The University of Sydney Union (USU) recently requested various student religious societies to amend their membership requirements and to ensure all university students (a.k.a. USU members) would have equal rights and accessibilities in joining a club and being executive members, otherwise they could face “deregistraion”, and, consequently, further funding and campus facilities would not be granted for club events.

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University of Sydney quad” by Andrea Schaffer is licensed under CC BY 2.0

The request has drawn public and media attention in late-March this year, and was reported extensively by local and national papers, with most of the attention focused on the Evangelical Union (EU) and the Catholic Society.

EU would have to abolish its requirement for prospective members to declare that “Jesus is my Lord”, while the latter was asked to open their executive positions to non-Catholics.

The USU president, Alisha Aitken-Radburn, said to News Corp, “We don’t understand why they need to force their members to say this or sign that.” Continue reading

What happens on campus stays on campus?: Sexual violence in the University of Sydney

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Madsen Building, The University of Sydney | Picture: Jason James

 

National Union of Students (NUS) women’s department 2015 study says that more than 70% of women have experienced some form of sexual harassment while enrolled at their university, and 27% have experienced sexual assault. Are Australian universities doing enough to prevent these events?

For my feature article, I plan to write about sexual harassment and sexual assault on college campuses. Specifically, I plan to address sexual harassment in the University of Sydney (USYD), and compare the statistics and experiences about it to the ones in the NUS Women’s department 2015 survey, Talk About It, which focuses on the experiences of women university students in Australia, and has a section dedicated to “sexual harassment”, “sexual assault”, and “reporting”.

While sexual harassment on college campuses is not anything new, lately, this topic is being discussed in several international media outlets because more women are speaking up about their experiences. With the creation of organisations like End Rape on Campus (also known as The IX Network), which works to end campus sexual violence; the premiere of the The Hunting Ground (THG) documentary, which chronicles sexual violence on American college campuses; and Lady Gaga’s performance of Til It Happens to You, THG theme song, in the Academy Awards, the media and the public are starting to pay more attention to the issue.

The Hunting Ground – Official Trailer

As I mentioned before, for my article, I plan to use the NUS’ Talk About It results and compare these to a USYD equivalent. The equivalent of this study would be the Safer Community Survey, which was sent to all students on September, 2015 through email. This survey focuses on sexual and physical harassment on campus, and it also gave the community the opportunity to give feedback on institutional and community responses to sexual harassment and assault. The survey’s results, however, have not being published yet, so to get access to this information, I will try to interview one the women in charge of the investigation: either Jordi Austin, Director of Student Support Services, or Sophia Barnes, Student Experience Coordinator.

I also plan to analyse the “Safer Community for All” campaign, which encourages members of the USYD community to “speak out about unacceptable behaviour on campus”. To get more information about this campaign, and about how the University handles sexual assault cases, I plan to contact Student Affairs, USYD’s department in charge of emergencies and complaints, and specifically, Idena Rex (head of the Student Affairs Unit), or Rebecca O’Brien (in charge of student appeals, misconduct and progression).

To get the students (and victims) side of the story, I also want to contact the Students’ Representative Council (SRC) Wom*n’s Department, which is in charge of the Wom*n’s Collective and the Wom*n of Colour Collective. They aim to represent and advocate for wom*n on campus, have organised campaigns against gendered violence, and have demanded the University to change the way it handles sexual assault cases. Preferably, I would like to interview Anna Hush-Egerton and/or Vanessa Song, who are the Wom*ens Officers.

Finally, I believe that an online publication interested in this would the weekly newspaper of the University of Sydney, Honi Soit, which has already published articles about sexual assault on campus (in LGBTQIA+ students and in female students). Honi Soit actually has a features section, and the way they publish features varies depending on the case. Some articles are more “traditional”, using mostly text, just one picture, tags, a list of resources (as “unlinked” urls) at the end, and options to share the story. Others, though, have a better presentation: they use more pictures, highlighted quotes, graphics, tags, sharing buttons, and are hosted on a platform that allows better readability. For this story, the second style might be the better, because the design is more engaging for the reader and it actually uses more characteristics of online journalism.

Name: Carmela Patricia Vera Mendoza

Student ID: 450422030

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