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Thursday, June 24, 2021

UC needs ‘institution-wide’ approach to sexual harassment and assault: review

The University of Canberra (UC) has released a report on a review of campus culture, undertaken by former Australian Sex Discrimination Commissioner Elizabeth Broderick.

The Broderick Reviewhighlights student and staff concerns around centralised reporting of sexual assault and harassment, data collection of incidents and a ‘non-uniform’ zero-tolerance approach across the university.

The review heard from focus groups comprised of staff and students, who raised concerns regarding confusion around how to report assault or harassment, ‘gendered’ and intimidating behaviour from staff towards students and other staff members, and an improved, yet still at times unsafe, culture on campus residences.

The report also identifies certain groups of people that are more vulnerable to sexual harassment and assault, including Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students, LGBTIQ students, international students, post-graduate students and students on placements.

The UC Student Representative Council (SRC) said in a statement, while UC has taken positive steps to address the issue, more communication is needed, particularly for these vulnerable groups of students. The statement also calls for a stand-alone policy on sexual harassment and assault.

“We believe the university executive has the responsibility to inform and enact a uniform understanding and response to reports of sexual harassment and assault across the university community. As a part of this policy, UCSRC would like to see the appointment of a designated sexual assault practitioner as part of UC’s medical and counselling team.”

The report calls on UC to adopt an ‘institution-wide’ approach to tackling sexual harassment and sexual assault on campus and outlines a series of recommendations underpinned by three principles: safety, respect and inclusion at the heart of UC’s future living/learning community; shifting norms, attitudes and behaviours to prevent sexual harassment and sexual assault; and effective and accessible systems to create a safe and supportive response.

The recommendations include a centralised repository and systemic approach to data, ‘survivor-centred’ support, comprehensive training and awareness-raising on sexual assault, harassment and respectful relationships across the university, and strengthened accountabilities for preventing and responding to sexual assault and sexual harassment.

Developing a specific sexual harassment and assault policy has also been recommended, with the report suggesting UC lags behind other comparable universities in this area.

In a statement, the university has confirmed it has accepted all the recommendations outlined in the report and acknowledged that there is more to be done.

“An immediate priority is the development of a centralised reporting, advice and referral service for students and staff that is underway. The development of this facility includes a multifaceted approach that will ensure improved response to reports and effective support and monitoring thereafter,” the statement reads.

“Considerable effort will be placed on creating a balanced approach to gender, culture, religion and sexual orientation when reviewing policies and frameworks around safe and respectful community initiatives.”

The Broderick Review was commissioned by UC in 2017, after the release of the Australian Human Rights Commission report into sexual harassment and assault in Australian universities.

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