two hands holding
Prompted

A Women’s Officer Perspective

Content warning: mentions of sexual assault, the AHRC survey, institutional betrayal and irresponsibility.

It always fascinates me when people ask me if sexual assault is really an issue at Australian universities. I never know how to hide my disbelief or to resist the temptation to yell that it is one of the biggest issues faced by Australian students today.

In my role this year as the Women’s Officer of my residential accommodation, I have been a lightning rod for disclosures of sexual assault. In this position, I have been able to assist survivors in getting the support they need and helping them to return to normality as much as possible.

When I accepted this role, I knew I would be operating as the first point of contact for issues of sexual assault. I was well trained and felt prepared for everything this would entail. Despite this, the number of disclosures I have received has been entirely unexpected. Realistically, every single person I know will know at least one survivor of sexual assault. So, when people ask me if sexual assault is an issue, I am always shocked. It shocks me because time and time again I realise how much shame, guilt and secrecy surrounds survivors of sexual assault. This is a crime that is so rampant, yet so well hidden.

Before I stepped into this role, there were many of truths that I thought were self-evident about sexual assault. Throughout the year, however, I’ve been proven wrong.  Instead of viewing it as a horrific crime committed by perpetrators who deserve punishment, I have learned that there are systemic issues that hide the existence of sexual assault and silence survivors of this crime. I have learned that it is the ultimate crime to commit because it does the most damage to survivors with the least repercussions for the perpetrator.

I have learned that there is so much more that we must do. The ANU has implemented consent training programs, and there will be a full-time sexual assault counsellor available to students and staff of the university. I am so excited about these changes and so proud to attend a university that is one of the first to implement these policies. However, there is still so much work to be done. There are still serious limits on grievance mechanisms that are accessible to sexual assault survivors in almost every university context, there are substantial challenges to survivors being capable of reporting, and there are limitations on punishments for perpetrators. These issues absolutely speak to wider societal issues, but we can do better in our university microcosm. While we have had some successes at the ANU, there is still so much more that needs to happen for adequate protection, safe recovery for survivors and effective justice mechanisms for perpetrators.

Despite all of this, there is one thing that has stood out the most across all the work I have done in the area of sexual assault this year. I have seen firsthand the phenomenal strength of survivors; individuals who consistently fight to get their power back, who show how they will not be defined by what has happened to them, rather that they will live their lives in a way that is empowering for them. I have been inspired by the strength and power of these people, in the face of unforgivable circumstances.

Survivors deserve so much more. They deserve to have a voice and to have their voices elevated. I’ve learned in my role that survivors need us – as friends, supporters, and leaders – to believe them, to support them, and to stand with them. This is an issue that affects so many, which requires all of us to take action and stop it from occurring and to fight for survivors to get the justice they deserve.

 

Resources

Canberra Rape Crisis Centre, Crisis Line

(02) 6247 2525

This is an over the phone counselling service. It is open from 7am to 11pm, 7 days a week. You can also use this number for counselling related inquiries or to book face-to-face appointments with Canberra Rape Crisis Centre. You must identify yourself as an ANU student to the CRCC but this information is not shared with anyone and the ANU will not be informed. All services are free of charge.

ANU Counselling

(02) 6125 2442

This is the phone number to book an appointment with ANU Counselling. You can book a standard appointment (50 mins) anytime. To book an on the day appointment for urgent help (25 mins) call at 9am or go into the Counselling Centre just before 9, as these appointments are first in best dressed. You can receive 6 free sessions per semester.

1800 RESPECT

1800 737 732

This is over the phone counselling and it iss available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. They can also refer you to local services. It is free of charge. 1800 RESPECT has a triage system, so the first person you speak to is not a counsellor. We recommend that you request to be put through to a counsellor straight away.

ANUSA and PARSA Student Assistance & Legal Officers

ANUSA (6125 4093) & PARSA (6125 2603)

These services are free and provide confidential assistance on financial, academic or advocacy support issues. Lawyers can offer legal advice.

ANU Women’s Department

Contact the Women’s Officer

The Women’s Department is part of ANUSA, and it advocates for and supports all ANU Women and non-binary students. As Women’s Officer, Holly can provide pastoral care, referrals to local support services, and give information about options for reporting within ANU and the support ANU can offer.  

ANU Queer* Department

Contact the Queer* Officer

  • sa.queer@anu.edu.au

The Queer* Department is part of ANUSA, and it advocates for and supports all Queer* identifying students. Ari can provide pastoral care, referrals to local support services, and give information about options for reporting within the ANU and the support that the ANU can offer.