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Residential communities respond to AHRC Report

All residential halls and university-affiliated colleges, including UniLodge, will take part in the ANU’s independent review announced on Tuesday after the release of the Human Rights Commission’s report on sexual assault and harassment on campus.

The AHRC report highlighted the particular challenges residential communities face addressing sexual assault and harassment, with 10 per cent of sexual assaults in a university context occurring at residential halls or colleges.

Women (12 per cent) were found to be significantly more likely than men (3 per cent) to have been sexually assaulted in a residential context.

The survey revealed that 34 per cent of those who reported being sexually assaulted were living at university owned or affiliated residential accommodation at the time of the last incident, suggesting that students living in residential colleges or halls may be more at risk of sexual assault than other students.

The report detailed particular difficulties facing residential communities, including hazing and ‘college traditions’, excess consumption of alcohol, and a lack of privacy regarding sexual relationships at halls and colleges.

Easily accessible private spaces, such as bedrooms, residential advisors ill-equipped to support victims, and the likelihood of victims needing to interact with their perpetrator on an ongoing basis also exacerbate difficulties.

 

The University will also establish a steering committee addressing sexual assault, sexism and sexual harassment, chaired by Donelle Wheeler, who is a former diplomat and president of the Australian National Committee for UN Women.

 

Wheeler will have a remit that covers the entire ANU community, which will include not just residential colleges but professional and academic staff, as well as senior leadership.

 

This review comes after the University of Sydney announced its ‘Broderick Review’ into sexual assault in its own residential colleges last year.

The vice-chancellor, Brian Schmidt, also announced that there would be a full audit of ANU’s counselling services. From 7 August, a sexual assault counsellor from the Canberra Rape Crisis Centre will have a full-time presence on campus.

Schmidt expressed his shock at the results, saying, ‘Every member of our community has a right to expect they will be safe in their place of study, their place of work, or – as this campus is for many – their home.’

The ANU announced on Tuesday that it would accept all of the AHRC’s recommendations, including that to commission an independent review of the factors contributing to sexual assault and harassment in residential settings.

The review was certain to cover the university-owned halls. However, Burgmann College and John XXIII College have agreed to participate in the review, with the alternative being a review of the university’s affiliation with the two colleges.

The head of John XXIII College, Geoff Johnston, told Woroni that ‘we have no concerns with people reviewing our procedures because we can always learn, we can always improve.’

‘The sheer fact that in a matter of two years, we’re now into our third policy on sexual assault gives an example that we’re trying to improve things, and I’m sure there’s other areas where we can improve as well,’ he said, noting the work the college has previously put into reforming its culture and disciplinary policy.

The acting principal of Burgmann College, Amelia Zaraftis, said, ‘Burgmann College is glad to be participating in the ANU’s upcoming review… I sincerely look forward to contributing to the review.’

UniLodge Chief Executive Officer Peter Bates said that, ‘UniLodge are fully aligned with ANU and will be part of the Halls/College/Lodges review to help identify the areas that need improvement consistent with the HRC recommendations.’

‘Any opportunity to review and improve the service and support we provide will be embraced by UniLodge now and into the future.’

In the meantime, halls and colleges will continue with their current programs addressing consent, and sexual assault and harassment.

‘Ahead of [the review], we are focusing on maintaining a respectful, supportive and inclusive living environment for residents,’ Zaraftis said of Burgmann College.

Similarly, Bates assured Woroni that UniLodge ‘believe[s] we are contributing to the promotion of a culture that encourages positive social behaviours and addresses any incidents in a sensitive and appropriate manner.’

Residents of the university-owned halls, Burgmann College and John XXIII College have been contacted during the week with reminders about respectful relationships and the support services available to victims of sexual assault and harassment.