University of Melbourne Introduces Anonymous Register13 June 2019
Content warning: mentions of sexual harassment, sexual assault
In March 2019, the University of Melbourne introduced an anonymous register. This platform allows students, staff, alumni or visitors to report any inappropriate behaviour on campus to The University without having to make an official complaint, or formally identifying themselves. This change could make it easier and less distressing for victims of assault and harassment to come forward.
The register was created to give the University better access to data regarding the level of inappropriate behaviour on campus, as such data has been historically underreported in Australian universities. The data collected by the University will be analysed for the purpose of evaluation and development of new preventative methods for inappropriate behaviours on campus. Results will be published annually on the University’s Respect Taskforce website.
Nearly 1 in 5 students have experienced harassment on some level, according to a 2017 study conducted by the Humans Rights Commission which investigated the prevalence of sexual assault and harassment in Australian university campuses. Out of the 30,000 respondents, 94% of those who had experienced harassment, and 84% of those who had been assaulted, did not make a formal report or complaint to their university.
“I was concerned that if I made an official report that my parents would be involved somehow, or that it may have gone on my academic transcript. At the time that the incident occurred, I did not have a strong support system in Melbourne and [I] was unaware of what resources were available to me aside from making a police report,” said Lea*, a third-year student who experienced sexual assault on campus.
A spokesperson for the University of Melbourne stated that they “acknowledge that reporting these inappropriate behaviours can be challenging for anyone who has experienced or witnessed these behaviours.”
“The register is a way for our community to inform us of issues without necessarily becoming deeply involved in the response.”
The University of Melbourne’s (UMSU) Women’s Department agrees that the introduction of a register is a positive one. “The initiative is an anonymous register for inappropriate behaviour which the university uses to track instances of harassment on campus. We think that this is a helpful initiative as this new software allows victims to speak out while maintaining their anonymity,” said Office Bearers of UMSU Women’s Department, Aria Sunga and Hannah Buchan.
An anonymous register can negate the fear of public repercussions, while still allowing a victim to voice their experience to the University.
However, some feel that there is more that should be done by the University to tackle this issue.
“The entire initiative feels very, for lack of a better word, fake. It feels like another ‘pat on the back’ type move from [the university] to make themselves feel better about having made an “attempt” to address the sexual harassment issue. The fact that it is only used for collecting statistical data makes me feel more like an object than a “victim” of sexual harassment. I’m seen as only a means to an end; of being able to wash their hands and say they did everything they could,” said Lea.
“The fact that the mental health services on campus, something extremely vital in the recovery from sexual trauma is extremely underdeveloped and abysmal considering the size of our university, our global ranking and our number of students makes me feel as though the funding allocated for this initiative could have been better spent,” she added.
The Women’s Department emphasises that the anonymous register is not a platform to anonymously report, and it should not be treated as such.
The register accepts responses from those who have first-hand experience of such behaviours, but also those who have witnessed, heard about, or have had information disclosed in confidence.
“No one can know for certain what the outcome of this new initiative will be, but any step that the university takes to improve safety on campus is a positive one and allows for future developments,” said Sunga and Buchan.
According the Sunga and Buchan, the University is investigating the possibility of implementing a formal anonymous reporting software within the next few years.
The University encourages anyone who has faced experiences of harassment or sexual violence to make formal reports.
*Names have been changed to protect privacy