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Saturday, June 12, 2021

Students call for action on campus safety

Advocates for change have condemned the Australian National University (ANU) for its slow progress towards addressing safety and wellbeing on campus.

Thursday 1 August marked the second anniversary of the Australian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) report on sexual assault and sexual harassment at Australian Universities.

An ANU spokesperson said “over the over the past two years, the university has made significant changes to improve the way we respond to, and care for, survivors of sexual assault and harassment”.

The spokesperson said the ANU set up the Respectful Relationships Unit in January this year and continues to invest in staff and resources.

“Through our Respectful Relationships Unit, we are working towards making ANU a safer place to live, learn, work and play. This includes preventing sexual assault and sexual harassment before it occurs and making sure we respond appropriately in instances where it does happen,” the spokesperson said.

“The university is also working hard to ensure the ANU community has access to appropriate training, education, community campaigns and information.

“In 2019 alone, ANU has conducted more than 30 education and training sessions across the university, provided over 40 information sessions, and conducted extensive consultation with staff and students over a five-month period on a sexual violence prevention strategy.”

However, theANU Postgraduate and Research Students’ Association (PARSA) and ANU Students’ Association (ANUSA) are critical of the university’s efforts, highlighted in their report One Step Forward, Two Steps Back. The report differs only minimally from the arguments made by student advocates last year.

“Although we acknowledge the work done by many at the university and that cultural change is not something that can happen overnight, there have been critical systemic failures to follow through on commitments, and an unwillingness on the part of leadership to take responsibility for delays and future action,” the report said.

“We are disappointed in the lack of progress since we wrote of the same issues of communication, inaction and bureaucratic delays, and once again call on the university to do more to ensure the safety and wellbeing of all students, no matter their gender, sexual identity or abilities.”

According to ANUSA President Eden Lim, “August 1 2019 marks another year since the AHRC report, and another year of delayed progress towards the recommendations made by experts, advocates, and ANUSA and PARSA”. “While we are proud of the establishment of the Respectful Relationships Unit, this is only a start, and complacency is unacceptable.”

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