Students who have endured sexual assault or harassment now have a clear path to university disciplinary action, vice-chancellor Brian Schmidt revealed in his weekly blog post on Friday.
The Discipline Rule is a piece of federal legislation that governs ANU’s student disciplinary process: if there is a student misconduct, or if the university wants to review a student’s behaviour, they must follow the statute.
These new changes to the rule have incorporated definitions of sexual harassment and assault into the document.
The definitions of sexual assault and harassment mirror those of the Sex Discrimination Act 1984. The rules now also specifically address the non-consensual distribution of intimate images, as the university makes a concerted effort to combat revenge porn.
Additionally, the amendment has incorporated a new section specifically titled ‘Sexual harassment and other forms of harassment’.
In Friday’s blog post, Schmidt wrote that the changes attempted to formalise a process that had been previously criticised as unclear.
“The Discipline Rule specifically allows for outcomes, including actions to be taken against the alleged offender, to be shared with the complainants,” Schmidt wrote.
The proceduralising and formalising of these issues attempts to enhance transparency in a matter where victims are often hesitant to raise their experiences through fear of repercussions.
ANUSA women’s officer Laura Perkov told Woroni that when students had come to the university in the past with sexual assault and harassment complaints, they had been turned away due to an inability to investigate such concerns under the Discipline Rule.
ANUSA president Eleanor Kay told Woroni that changes to the rule were an important step for ANU:
“Changes to our discipline rule won’t fix the problem,” she said, “We need to change the cultures on campus that enable sexual violence. But this is one important step the university needed to take.”
Kay also suggested that there were more significant policies that the university should prioritise:
“ANUSA and PARSA in our demands on August 1 pushed for a centralised, independent office – a place where a student can get full information and be helped to begin on the process of reporting and seeking help. Working on this ‘first stop shop’ should be a significant priority.”
Changing the legislation was one of the key recommendations of 2017’s Rapid Context report into sexual harassment and assault policies at ANU.
The Rapid Context report was a review of the university’s procedures, practices and communications surrounding its responses to sexual assault and harassment.
The independent review produced a number of guidelines and models for improvement that the ANU has already implemented, including the mandatory online Consent Matters module, bystander training for staff and students and mandatory training modules for student residential leaders.
The amendment was developed under the guide of the respectful relationships steering committee.