National Day of Action

Students criticise the University for “lack of action” on sexual violence during South Lawn protest

6 September 2019

Content Warning: sexual assault and harassment.

Approximately 20 students gathered on South Lawn on Wednesday 21 August to protest what they believe to be inaction by the University to prevent sexual violence on campus.

Students placed 500 red flags on South Lawn, each representing an instance of sexual violence that had occurred on the University of Melbourne campus.

The protest, led by the University of Melbourne Student Union (UMSU) Women’s Department, was part of a larger day of action against sexual violence on campus occurring at universities around Australia.

According to the Women’s department office bearers (OBs) Aria Sunga and Hannah Buchan, the underlying cause of the protest is what they believe to be a lack of action undertaken by the University since the release of ‘Change the Course’ report in 2017.

“The University refuses to talk about this kind of thing and refuses to take any clear or positive action towards creating a safe campus,” Sunga said.

According to said report, 50 per cent of students reported experienced sexual harassment while on the University of Melbourne campus during 2016.

However, a University spokesperson said the Women’s Department had not brought up this issue with them prior to the protest. “University staff meet regularly with both the UMSU and GSA Women’s Officers to discuss issues and plan future actions. The Women’s Officers have not raised this concern in any of these meetings, rather agreeing that it is more important to make effective informed change,” they told Farrago.

Since the ‘Change the Course’ report was released, the University has implemented a number of strategies to minimise instances of sexual violence on campus. These include establishing the Safer Sex program that allows students to freely and discreetly access to condoms and sexual health information and introducing a ‘Consent Matters’ module to be completed by every student.

In March of this year, the University also established an anonymous register to allow students, staff, alumni or visitors to report any inappropriate behaviour on campus without having to file a formal complaint. At time of publication, the University spokesperson told Farrago the register has already received 277 submissions.

Farrago has previously reported on students’ frustrations with the measures taken by the University, particularly in regard to the anonymous register. Lea*, a student who experienced sexual assault on campus, said, “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 Women’s OBs made a number of demands for increased action during the protest, which included the expulsion of sexual perpetrators and greater support services for victims of sexual violence.

The University encourages students to report any instances of sexual violence to Victoria Police.

*Name has been changed to protect privacy.

If you have experienced sexual harassment or assault, or you know someone who has, please contact:

  • CASA after-hours sexual assault crisis support line at 1800 806 292
  • UMSU Legal advice line at 0468 720 668

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