Imagine reaching out for help when dealing with issues like sexual assault, sexism, and misogyny, only to be tormented further and see little improvement. Improper treatment for students facing such problems has been an increasing problem around the world, but especially so at Australian universities.
According to the United Nations, Australia has some of the highest rates of reported sexual assault in the world. To make matters worse, over the past year there has been a steady stream of on campus assaults, a place where students should feel safe.
This disappointing increase of on-campus assaults, ritualized misogyny, and cruel retaliation has started a larger conversation about gender, power, accountability, and what needs to be done in order to assure students’ wellbeing.
A victims’ advocate and writer, Nina Funeel, says, “It is standard, in fact, that when a student exposes sexism or misogyny in their own university they are almost always met with horrendous backlash and ostracism, including reprisals. That’s incredibly common in Australia.”
Karen Willis, the Executive Officer of Rape and Domestic Violence Services, Australia, said other standard acts of retaliation include flooding, urinating on mattresses, and insults on social media. This kind of behavior shows the blatant disrespect that meets students who speak out about their experiences.
There have been too many incidents to ignore, and the pattern of quickly dismissing incident reports and trying to save a university’s reputation instead of its students will only prolong this issue.
For this reason, activists are pushing demands, such as a university hotline, which would offer help from a trained trauma professional, in addition to required sexual consent training and a clear and transparent system for adjudicating complaints.
For example, Tyron Carlin, Deputy Vice Chancellor at Sydney University, states that the university recently set up a rape hotline and improved training for staff. A.N.U introduced a sexual consent training course for all first-year students this year, according to Pro Vice Chancellor Richard Baker.
Additionally, the Australian Human Rights Commission is conducting a survey of 39,000 students at 39 Australian universities to map the full extent of the problem.
Belinda Robinson, Chief Executive of Universities Australia, an association of the country’s universities, which helped finance the survey, stated, “All universities are putting in an enormous amount of effort. This whole-of-sector approach is a world first.”
Although these initiatives should help, it is disappointing that this global issue has gotten to this point and that universities have not done more in the past to protect their students. Many students’ requests for change have also been denied.
Many Australian students say that requests for policies, such as mandatory education, have been dismissed or delayed, even as reports of sexual assault reached a six-year high last year.
For example, last year, in an open letter to Sydney University officials, women who served in student government wrote: “For an entire decade we have been raising the issue of sexual assault and harassment on campus with the administration. For an entire decade we have been met with resistance to change.”
There must be a continuous, widespread effort to eliminate sexual assault and to improve university responses around the world.
Sign Up For Our Newsletter