Readers should be advised that this article contains discussions surrounding sexual assault and harassment on campus.

Earlier this year, The National Union of Students (NUS), The Hunting Ground Australia Project, End Rape on Campus Australia and Fair Agenda released a joint statement to call the Federal Government to establish an independent, expert led taskforce to trace, assess and publicly report on university and residential colleges’ measures to prevent, and improve responses to sexual assault. Released following the Australian Royal High Commission’s Change the Course report and days before the Red Zone report, the joint statement addresses the nationwide push by student representatives to create effective and long-lasting reform pertaining to sexual assault and harassment on campus.

A few weeks ago, Universities Australia released a list of guidelines all universities should be implementing to make campuses and colleges a safer place for all students. The recommendations include ensuring staff with student-facing roles are equipped with skills to respond to disclosures and reports of sexual assault, offering an interpreter for students who prefer to provide information in their native language, and working closely with colleges and residential halls where sexual assault rates are higher than elsewhere on campus.

The guidelines themselves were critiqued by End Rape on Campus’ director Nina Funnell, and when Pelican reached out to her, Ms Funnell stated, “The change that has happened has largely been ad hoc. While there has been some change in some universities, overall there has been no national reform. Moreover, there needs to be some sort of national oversight for surveys in the future, and we cannot let residential colleges be governed by themselves.”

Today marks one year since the release of the AHRC report, and the UWA Guild Women’s Department is hosting a sit-in for the NUS’ National Day of Action. The UWA Student Guild Women’s Department represents the interests of women and non-binary students. Its work to help empower students has included holding free self-defence lessons for female and non-binary students from weeks 3-5 and 6-9 in semester one. There are plans to host a further class during the upcoming Women’s Week. 2018 Women’s Officer Roshni Kaila states that the work to prevent sexual assault on campus is not something that she takes lightly, and is ongoing and started before the results of the AHRC survey were even published.

“The lead up to the release of the AHRC report saw the Guild and the University jointly establish the Safety on Campus Working Group in 2017. The Working Group was formed to identify and respond to key issue areas through the formulation of an Action Plan, including communications, policies and processes, education and training, services and support, and prevention and cultural change. Through the monthly (and now quarterly) meetings, Guild representatives meet with various university stakeholders from the Health Promotion Unit, Student Experience, and Campus Management among others.”

The Working Group’s efforts culminated in the signing of the University Action Plan on July 19, 2018 by Guild President Megan Lee and Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Education) David Sadler. In his first edition of the Education Quarterly, Professor Sadler stated that the 2018 Action Plan includes “further initiatives against sexual harassment and assault within the Respect Now Always framework.” These initiatives follow on from the recommendations made in the AHRC report, and include allocating funding towards lighting on campus, developing educational tools for students, and increasing the volume capabilities of on campus mental health services and counselling.

Miss Lee said in a statement to Pelican, “Since the creation of the Safety on Campus Working Group 18 months ago, the Guild has lobbied and worked directly with the University to achieve a number of changes including the complete overhaul of sexual misconduct policies and procedures to be trauma informed and student-centric, the redesign of the reporting website and the co-design and development of the independent audit of Residential Colleges at UWA.”

These changes, which were implemented in 2017, involved an expanded definition of sexual misconduct which acknowledged that sexual violence between students or staff members made campus spaces unsafe for survivors regardless of whether the incident occurred on campus, off campus, or online. The reporting mechanisms were also changed to clearly show two options – ‘Disclosing’ and ‘Reporting’ – depending on the pathway that the survivor wished to take. The new website also features a banner showing the university’s commitment to the ‘Respect. Now. Always.’ campaign.

As for the co-design and development of an independent audit of Residential Colleges at UWA, Miss Kaila states that its planning took place last semester, and the audit itself will be taking place this semester. 2018 Guild Education Council President Conrad Hogg said that the audit would be carried out by Jahn Health Consultancy, an external consulting firm with experience in conducting audits. Pelican reached out to Chris Massey, Director of Student Life at UWA, to talk about the upcoming audit. Mr Massey stated, “The colleges are in full support and encourage this review, which is titled the College Row Cultural Review 2018. Each Head of College has provided a written submission to the review. All other College Row staff were invited to provide a written submission. A variety of University stakeholders have been interviewed. In August and September 2018, all Residents will be invited to complete a voluntary, online questionnaire and have the opportunity to attend a confidential one-on-one interview with the independent reviewer.”

According to Mr Massey, The Review’s objectives are to conduct an independent review of the factors which may contribute to sexual assault and sexual harassment in the University of Western Australia’s College Row, and to use the information obtained during this review to generate solutions that can be implemented by College Row to prevent incidents of sexual assault and sexual harassment, and respond to those incidents reported by residents. In particular, the Review will focus on the ways that hazing practises or college ‘traditions’ may facilitate a culture that increases the likelihood of sexual misconduct, the role of alcohol in facilitating circumstances which may increase the likelihood of sexual misconduct, consistency of policies and procedures between UWA and College Row, and strategies being applied to maximise the safety of College Row residents at college events and associated activities.

Miss Lee further added that, “There is always more that can be done towards combating this issue, which is why the Guild has introduced further face to face training for student representatives including responding to disclosure training, started the development and design of a UWA specific consent and respectful behaviour educational program and a campus wide lighting audit and review with subsequent funding applications.”

The face to face training that is provided to student representatives is carried out by representatives from the Sexual Assault Research Centre, and was received by Guild Departments, Faculty Societies (with the exception of UDSS), and large clubs with a focus on alcohol such as Leisure and EMAS. Mr Hogg stated that the training was given to individuals, clubs, and departments that were likely to receive disclosures regarding sexual assault, and was carried out in February 2018, prior to the start of semester. He further stated that the UWA specific consent and respectful behaviour program was not receiving support from the university, and that Miss Lee and Miss Kaila were developing a discussion paper to persuade university executives to develop an online unit akin to Consent Matters. As for the audit and review, that was carried out in 2017 and its results were shared on the UWA Student Guild Women’s Department Facebook page, and showed that student confidence in campus safety almost halved from daylight hours to night time hours.

Largely, the motions that have been passed by the Guild this year regarding sexual assault and campus safety have been symbolic – however, this is not specific to motions on sexual assault, and indeed most motions follow this pattern. The Guild Council’s motions have endorsed national movements initiated by the NUS including the National Day of Action. Of course, this has also meant that they have been consistently put pressure on the university to comply with national demands.

Miss Kaila writes, “Though some progress has been made, the university is not responding with the urgency the issue necessitates. As part of the National Day of Action, the Women’s Department has developed UWA specific demands to further improve safety on campus.”

These demands include a commitment by the university to complete the application for more lighting in 2018, implementation of the Callisto Project to facilitate reporting of sexual violence on campus, mandatory sexual violence response training for academic and support service staff, employment of at least 2 full-time equivalent counsellors with sexual violence training, and greater university oversight of residential colleges. Miss Kaila has expanded on these demands here.

Miss Kaila states, “This list is not exhaustive; it doesn’t include some of the other work we are doing with the university, including improving the accessibility and quality of security services on campus, campaigning for cultural change around sexual violence and rape culture, as well as ensuring the university is accountable to the Action Plan.”

Through the symbolic motions of endorsement, the Guild Council have been shown an attempt to change the culture surrounding sexual assault on our campus, but one motion stands out as the exception to this rule. On July 25th, Guild Councillor Kate Fletcher moved a motion instructing the Sport Council President to liaise with UWA Sport about “the possibility of using the newly installed LED lights on university ovals throughout the night, as they are cheap to run and will improve the safety of students on campus.” It’s only been a week since this motion was passed so it is worth seeing where this line of inquiry leads.

Sexual assault on campus can have consequences that last a lifetime. In addition to the immediate trauma, survivors can also face the risk of STDs, depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder. They can lose their friends, feel unsafe on campus, and even be forced to discontinue their education. The conversations surrounding sexual assault on campus have been ramped up by the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements, as well as pressure from student and research organisations around Australia. Change seems to be occurring slowly, as student representatives can only do so much to lobby universities and residential colleges to enact the recommendations by the NUS and AHRC. However, despite the glacial rate of change, there is hope that universities nationwide, and specifically UWA, will establish measures that tackle campus sexual assault and harassment in effective and long-lasting ways.

Ishita Mathur & Joshua Cahill | @ishitamathur7  &  @joosh_cahill

If any of the content of this article has brought up any issues for you, remember that UWA Counsellors are available by calling 6488 2423 or by visiting the first floor of the Student Central Building. Guild Student Assist Officers are available by calling 6488 2292 or emailing assist@guild.uwa.edu.au. An online complaint can be lodged here. Further information about UWA’s sexual assault and harassment policies and support services can be found here. Should you feel unsafe on campus at any point, you can also call UWA Security 24/7 on 6488 2222.