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News Article

VCA Students Demand UniMelb to Commit to “Zero Tolerance” Policy

Students at the Victorian College of the Arts (VCA) are calling on the University of Melbourne to “commit to stronger policies and actions when it comes to sexual assault”, after the University ignored multiple reports which detailed alleged sexual and racial harassment by a male student as far back as 2019.

Content warning: Sexual assault, harassment, racism, institutional abuse.

 

Students at the Victorian College of the Arts (VCA) are calling on the University of Melbourne to “commit to stronger policies and actions when it comes to sexual assault”, after the University ignored multiple reports which detailed alleged sexual and racial harassment by a male student as far back as 2019.

VCA students Sinead Fernandes, Mia Boonen, and Antoinette Tracey believe that the University has failed its students when it comes to abuse and harassment. This comes after a walkout on the first day of semester, 28 February, in protest of the reintroduction of the accused male student to the 2022 Theatre cohort.

“We were told to view sexual and racial acts of violence as compliments,” said Tracey in a statement.

“We were told that we’d never make it in the industry if we continued to speak out about abuse injustices … We were told that our past experience of sexual assault and the possibility of us being on our periods made us unreliable in our assessment of the situation.”

In October last year, the University passed the Sexual Misconduct Prevention and Response Policy which aimed to address and create proper frameworks for responding to cases of sexual misconduct within the University. The Policy applies to “officers, employees, and students of the University” as well as “individuals or organisations who are contractually obliged to comply with this policy”.

Within the policy, the University asserts it will “take action to eliminate and prevent misconduct” and “[prioritise] the safety and wellbeing of victim-survivors by providing a trauma-informed approach which supports, listens to, and validates the experience of victim-survivors”.

However, Boonen stated her personal experiences with the University showed a lack of commitment to this policy.

“I was assaulted on campus by this man in 2019,” said Boonen in a statement.

“I tried to report shortly after the incident and I was told by a staff member not to take it any further because I would ‘have to miss class’ and ‘undergo a really stressful investigation’ while the reporting process was underway.”

Fernandes and Tracey also note that the University breached several of their Policy points when conducting their formal investigation.

Section 5.20 of the Policy outlines “support for those involved in a disclosure or complaint” such as changes to work and study timetable and environment; re-crediting any taken leave; access to internal and external services; and any other support that the individual requests. However, Fernandes and Tracey stated that while they “were promised special consideration”, they were “left with unanswered emails”.

“Never in my life have I felt so robbed of basic human rights,” said Fernandes.

Fernandes, Tracey, and Boonen are also calling on the University to commit to “ensuring that staff are trained in how to effectively and kindly respond to disclosure by students”.

This comes after Tracey and Fernandes detailed an experience in which they “[fought] so hard to show [a University teacher] what this man had done, hoping she would agree or at least support us” for two hours.

“Sinead and I were recorded for two hours as we begged this teacher to stop telling us to sympathise with assault and racial harassment,” stated Tracey.

The alleged behaviour displayed by this University staff member shows an explicit breach of Section 5.44 of the Policy which outlines a commitment to no victimisation.

A University spokesperson on the issue said that “the University has begun an education program to equip everyone at the University to play an active role in identifying, responding to and preventing sexual misconduct. Further programs are due to be rolled out this year.”

“These initiatives are one component of our approach to ensure all our staff and students feel able to raise any concerns and that issues will be handled in a way that is respectful, fair and confidential.”

Since sharing their story to social media, other survivors have come forward with similar experiences.

“What started as a story about a single perpetrator and a system that won’t listen has revealed an extensive pattern of abuse and neglect in reporting processes,” wrote Boonen on Twitter.

VCA student Chris Patrick Hansen also wrote in support of this call to action.

“The University has shown zero transparency … A safe space does NOT [sic] wait for an unsafe incident to occur,” wrote Hansen.

“I was constantly told in my objections … that the VCA and University of Melbourne had done nothing wrong.”

For the University, it appears that way.

A University spokesperson has stated that while they are unable to comment on the specifics of this issue, “the University has taken appropriate steps to respond to the issues raised, in line with our policy settings and values”.

“The University of Melbourne has zero tolerance for sexual misconduct and is committed to prioritising support for all those that experience it,” added the spokesperson.

“While we are confident in the integrity of our formal processes, we are committed to listening to our students so that we can continue to improve how we address these matters.”

A joint statement put out by University of Melbourne Student Union (UMSU) President Sophie Nguyen and the UMSU Women’s Office also calls on the University to “do better”.

“It is clear that there is a broken relationship between students and the University. Reporting through University avenues remains inaccessible, and it has been highlighted that there is a level of low trust within these processes,” read the statement.

“The University now has a stand-alone Sexual Misconduct Prevention and Response Policy, established late last year after years of advocacy from UMSU … This is not a process that can take years—students are being harmed on campus now.”

“Policy and programs don’t mean anything if they continue to fail victims.”

 

Tracey, Fernandes, and Boonen have begun an open letter on behalf of the VCA Survivors to the University. Sign the open letter here.

Farrago reached out to Head of Theatre Chris Mead and VCA Director Emma Redding, but did not receive a response.

 

 

UMSU Resource for Survivors

If you have experienced sexual harassment or assault, or you know someone who has, UMSU has a page detailing services that may be able to help address these needs.

https://umsu.unimelb.edu.au/support/survivors/

 

Centre for Sexual Assault (CASA)

CASA provides specialist therapeutic and advocacy support to survivors of sexual assault. They have a 24 hour, 7 day a week counselling line which can be accessed free of charge.

Phone: 03 9635 3610

 

1800Respect

This is a free and confidential sexual assault and domestic or family violence support service. They have a 24 hour, 7 day a week phone line, online chat function, and an interpreter service:

https://www.1800respect.org.au/

 

UMSU Sexual Harm and Response Coordinators

UMSU Sexual Harm and Response Coordinators provide support and advocate for victim-survivors of sexual assault and harassment.

Email: naomi.smith@union.unimelb.edu.au, lauren.kingsley@union.unimelb.edu.au

 
Farrago's magazine cover - Edition Four 2022

EDITION FOUR 2022 AVAILABLE NOW!

Saddle up! Farrago’s brand spanking new edition is here! It’s jam-packed with art, photography, news, non-fiction and creatice writing; and it calls on you to “be the cowboy.” “But what does that mean?” you ask. Well, let the wise words of Mitski guide you… ”What would a swaggering cowboy riding into town do in this situation?”

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