The University of Sydney has come under fire for allegedly asking victims of sexual assault to complete a generic online form which asks why they haven’t tried to solve the problem themselves.
On Tuesday, Universities Australia (which represents 39 universities across the country) launched a world-first survey of sexual harassment on Australian campuses.
The launch coincided with the University of Sydney’s women’s officer Anna Hush lashing out at the elite university’s procedures for dealing with assault, and lambasting them for “stalling” on the prevalent issue.
In a column for The Guardian on Tuesday, Ms Hush claimed “all that exists is an impersonal and generic web form” for sexual assault victims.
She called the form, which requires the name, email address and phone number of victims “impersonal”, and said it was “no surprise” most rapes go unreported.
In May, the university’s Director of Student Support Services, Jordi Austin, told the university newspaper there was no university hotline for victims to call, and that the 1800 SYD HELP hotline, spruiked by the vice chancellor at a panel discussion on sexual assault, was in fact only available for staff.
In a statement to The New Daily, the university did not directly answer whether students had been directed to the generic form, but said it offered an anonymous call-back service manned by trained staff.
When pressed, it couldn’t answer whether the hotline is new, or if it is actually available for students.
Women’s officers unite against “stalled” policy
In her column, Ms Hush admitted she could not, “in good faith”, recommend victims of sexual assault move through the university’s formal procedures.
“I can’t refer them to specialist sexual assault counselling on campus, because it doesn’t exist,” she said.
Ms Hush, along with University of Sydney’s women’s officers from the past 10 years, penned an open letter to the university, claiming it had put sexual harassment at “the bottom of the agenda” and was “stalling” on the issue.
In May, Ms Hush told Fairfax students were directed to fill in the “incredibly generic” complaints form, while in the same month a student told the paper they were made to have a “mediation” session with a fellow student who had allegedly assaulted them.
One in four experienced sexual harassment or assault
A 2015 survey by Uni Syd reported 25 per cent of women said they had experienced “some form of unacceptable behaviour, unwanted sexual harassment or assault over the time they were enrolled at the University, with the majority of these incidents occurring off campus”.
The report found only one in five women who experienced sexual assault reported it, and 41 per cent of those did not find the university’s formal procedures helpful.
In its findings, the report recommended the university’s complaint handling mechanisms be reviewed.
Is that number high?
The Australian Bureau of Statistics reports almost one in five women over the age of 15 will experience sexual assault in Australia.
That same number was repeated in a US study on campus sexual assaults.
In May, the university announced it had enlisted Former Sex Discrimination Commissioner Elizabeth Broderick to help deal with the prevalence of sexual harassment in its residential colleges.