Fair Agenda Blog

uni safety

Here's what you need to know: last year the Albanese Government commissioned a major review of how universities work.

Fair Agenda and End Rape on Campus Australia have been working hard to ensure that review (the Universities Accord process) recommended action for student safety.

Last week, the Government made the Expert Panel's Interim Report public. Alongside 70 different reforms floated for long-term consideration; student safety was explicitly mentioned amongst five immediate areas for action.

The Education Minister, in announcing the Government's response to that Report  committed to begin progressing action in all of those five areas - which is really good news, and a significant win for our campaign!

The Minister was even asked about his commitment to action on this issue during his National Press Club appearance. You can watch the question and his response here.

Since then, we've been keeping up the momentum with continued media pressure.  

You can see Fair Agenda's TV interview on ABC Afternoon Briefing talking about the need for a Taskforce on university sexual assault here.

Then the Saturday Paper released an exclusive about Universities Australia cancelling a sexual assault awareness campaign.

Then, last week during a Senate Inquiry into consent, our campaign partners End Rape on Campus Australia, and other advocates, ensured the failures and harmful actions of universities were put under the microscope again, and ensured our calls for the government to create an independent accountability mechanism were echoed.

Then last week during the Senate's Inquiry into Consent laws - this issue was raised again, and university representatives were questioned about their actions in this area. You can see some coverage of that part of the Inquiry here.

Then, when Government Minister Amanda Rishworth appeared on Insiders last weekend - she was also asked about the Government's commitment in this area. You can see her response here; and the Panel's further reflections here.

This is really important progress - thank you to all of the survivors, students and advocates who have been part of advocating for change on this issue over the recent years and decades.

The commitments the Government have made so far are really encouraging. But we still don't yet have the accountability or oversight we need to deliver meaningful change for students. So we need to keep up the pressure - to keep our campaign ask on the agenda; and resource the behind-the-scenes work needed to ensure the details of any proposed reform will actually work for students and survivors who need it.

Can you help support this campaign during the critical next months?

Add your voice to the call for change here: https://www.fairagenda.org/uni_safety

You can donate to help resource the vital next steps here.

Written by Renee Carr
03 August 2023

An open letter to the Albanese Government, 

We write as a united group of current and former students, survivors, advocates, and service providers - calling for the federal government to urgently intervene to address university failures to prevent and respond adequately to sexual violence in their communities.

Survivors, student leaders and advocacy groups have been speaking out about sexual violence in university context for decades. 

In the six years since the release of the landmark Change the Course report, university leaders have been claiming to have ‘zero tolerance’ for sexual assault. Yet the recent National Student Safety Survey shows continuing shocking rates of sexual assault and harassment in university spaces, and ongoing university failures to provide affected students with adequate avenues for support. 

If nothing changes, based on NSSS figures, at least 14,300 students will be sexually assaulted in university contexts each coming year. For many, the university’s response will compound their trauma, and adversely impact their academic outcomes, their ability to complete their degree, and their capacity to pursue their chosen career. 

Universities need to implement evidence-based prevention education programming and improve their responses to incidents of sexual harm. They need to be more transparent about the use of sexual violence in their communities, and how they are responding and holding perpetrators accountable. 

Universities have been repeatedly provided expert advice [1] on good practice and have chosen not to implement it. 

In the six years since the release of the Change the Course report, the higher education regulator, TEQSA, has failed to hold a single university accountable for not adequately addressing or responding to reports of sexual assault and/or harassment. [2]

 This has gone on long enough. The Albanese Government must intervene to protect student safety. 

We are calling on the government to establish an independent oversight and accountability mechanism with a mandate to address sexual violence at universities.

 This must: 

  • be independent of universities and residences;
  • be led by experts in sexual violence who can assesses the quality of university approaches;
  • have authority to compel institutional transparency around incidents and responses; and
  • be able to implement meaningful sanctions when basic standards are not met.

 To achieve the Government’s goals to address gender-based violence, it must intervene in the university context. 

We need urgent action, and we need it now. 

Signed: 

Abby Kennedy, 2017 National Union of Students Women’s Officer

Dr Adrianna Haro, graduate of the University of Newcastle Alev Saracoglu, Women’s Officer, University of Sydney Students' Representative Council

ANU Students' Association (ANUSA)

Australian Law Students’ Association

Australian Women's Health Network

Caleb Watts, Welfare Officer, UNSW Student Representative Council

Darcie Cliff, Vice President of Indigenous Affairs, What Were You Wearing Australia

Eli Spencer, Queer Officer, QUT Guild

End Rape on Campus Australia

Fair Agenda

Full Stop Australia

Georgette Mouawad, 2021 National Union of Students Women’s Officer

Georgia Thomas, President, University of Adelaide Student Representative Council

Heidi La Paglia Reid, 2016 National Union of Students Women’s Officer

Humaira Nasrin, 2020 National Union of Students Women’s Officer

Julia Saphia Grant, former President of University of Tasmania Women’s Collective and Student Union Disability Officer

Kush Ketan Modha, Board Member, University of South Australia Student Association

KWILS – Katherine Women’s Legal Service

Linnea Burdon-Smith, 2016 ANU Students Association Women’s Officer

Lucy Fawcett, Magill Undergraduate Representative, University of South Australia Student Association

Manisha Kulasinghe, Women’s Officer, James Cook University Student Association

MSI Australia

National Association of Services against Sexual Violence

National Union of Students

National Women’s Safety Alliance

Nguyen Khanh Tran, Disabilities Officer, University of Sydney Students' Representative Council

No Student Left Behind - Western Sydney University

Oliver Shephard-Bayly, Board Member, University of South Australia Student Association

Rape and Sexual Assault Research and Advocacy

Rhiannon Halling, She's a Crowd & Women With Disabilities Australia

Sarah Williams, University of Newcastle Survivor Advocates Advisory Chair & Founder, What Were You Wearing Australia

SASVic (Sexual Assault Services Victoria)

Siahne Hills, Women’s Officer, QUT Guild

Tegan Stettaford, Postgraduate Student Representative, University of Newcastle Students’ Association

The STOP Campaign

Top End Women's Legal Service Inc

University of Melbourne Student Union Women's Department

University of Newcastle Students Association

University of Sydney SRC Women’s Collective

University of Sydney Students' Representative Council (SRC)

UQ Union

What Were You Wearing Australia

Women's Legal Services Australia

Women's Legal Service Tasmania

Women's Legal Service WA

Zahra Bayani, Students Representative City East Campus, University of South Australia Student Association

[1] See: Andrea Durbach and Kirsten Keith, On Safe Ground: A Good Practice Guide for Australian Universities (Australian Human Rights Centre, UNSW, August 2017) https://www.humanrights.unsw.edu.au/sites/default/files/documents/AHR0002_On_Safe_Ground_Good_Practice_Guide_online.pdf, Universities Australia, Guidelines for University Responses to Sexual Assault and Sexual Harassment (20 July 2018) https://www.universitiesaustralia.edu.au/Media-and-Events/media-releases/Students-at-the-centre--new-guidelines-for-university-responses-to-sexual-harassment-and-sexual-assault#.XPMUjy2B1p9, Universities Australia, Sexual Harm Response Guidelines 2023, https://www.universitiesaustralia.edu.au/wp-content/uploads/2023/03/UA-2023-008-Sexual-Harm-Response-Guidelines-web-v3.pdf, and Tertiary Education Quality and Standards Agency, Good Practice Note: Preventing and responding to sexual assault and sexual harassment in the Australian higher education sector (9 July 2020) https://www.teqsa.gov.au/sites/default/files/good-practice-note-preventing-responding-sexual-assault-sexual_harassment-v2-0-web.pdf

[2] TEQSA has revealed in Senate Estimates that it has undertaken more than 60 individual assessments of universities’ sexual assault and harassment policies and procedures, including 29 finalised complaints, 12 occasions where TEQSA engaged with seven universities in relation to media reports, and five occasions where universities had notified TEQSA of a matter of concern related to sexual assault or sexual harassment. See: Senate Standing Committees on Education and Employment, Parliament of Australia, Budget Estimates 2022–2023, Question on Notice SQ22-000390, Question on Notice SQ22-000173, and Question on Notice SQ22-00039.

__________

You can sign the petition to hold universities accountable for failures on sexual violence here.

Written by Sharna Bremner
11 July 2023

Joint media release: Fair Agenda & End Rape on Campus Australia

Major changes, and independent oversight are urgently needed to address sexual violence in universities, or another 8,800 students are expected to be sexually assaulted in Australian university contexts by the end of this academic year, say advocates.

Intervening to address university failures to meet basic standards in relation to sexual violence must be a priority for any reform agenda that cares about student wellbeing and educational outcomes, say women’s safety advocates Fair Agenda and End Rape on Campus Australia, in their submission to the national ‘Universities Accord’ reform process currently underway.

The groups say most universities are failing students at every point of responsibility:

  • Failing to provide evidence-based interventions to prevent rape on campus. 
  • Failing to ensure tutors and other staff with positions of influence and access don’t have a history of using sexual violence.
  • Failing to support students who report rape on campus with timely access to trauma-informed counselling.
  • Failing to provide timely responses to urgent requests for basic safety and academic accommodations. 
  • Failing to provide basic on-campus safety measures such as ensuring that student survivors don’t have to sit in the same classroom as the person who raped them.  
  • Failing to enable minor adjustments to ensure students don’t fail out of their course while dealing with the trauma impacts associated with sexual assault. 
  • Failing to take action to ensure staff or students known to be using violence aren’t given the opportunity to cause further harm in university contexts. 

“Students who are sexually assaulted or harassed in a university context have needs that can only be met by their university. Court processes can take years to deliver any kind of outcome - students can’t wait that long for the basic support they need, and that could make the difference between graduating or failing out. When you want to change your tutorial so you’re not in class with someone who raped you - you need the university to act. When you need an extension on your assignment because you’re dealing with PTSD from a violent sexual assault - you need the university to act.” said Sharna Bremner, Founder of End Rape on Campus Australia.

“Despite saying the right things, many universities are still actively causing harm with their response to sexual violence by their students and staff. Five years on from the landmark Human Rights Commission Inquiry into this crisis - National Student Safety Survey data shows very little has changed. Students are paying the price; and universities are not being held accountable.” said Renee Carr, Executive Director at Fair Agenda.

Ms Bremner added: “The problem is not just universities failing to prevent potential sexual violence. Although many still do. Frequently university administrations also choose not to protect students when rapists are reported at their institution. We’ve had cases where multiple young women have reported the same offending student to their university, and he’s been allowed to remain on campus, which has enabled him to harm other students. If he’d been copying an essay, instead of violently violating another student’s body - university policy would have seen him expelled.”

“While students who are recovering from the trauma of a violent crime are forced to jump through hoops to stay in uni -  often including forking out money to get multiple psychologist letters confirming their trauma is enough to get them an extension - we know of multiple students with sexual assault complaints against them getting brought onto university staff.”  added Ms Bremner.

“Most of us would think that having active sexual assault complaints against you at an institution would hurt your job chances. At many universities that doesn’t appear to be the case” she added. 

“In the five years since the Australian Human Rights Commission confirmed the scale of sexual violence and its impact at universities, many universities haven’t made the substantive changes recommended. They can’t be trusted to mark their own work in this area. We need the federal government to ensure independent oversight - and deliver accountability when universities decide to put student safety and wellbeing at risk.” Ms Carr said.

“Universities are expecting students to be back on campus full time; but many haven’t made the changes students need to actually be safe from sexual violence when we are. Violence prevention work is still laughably bad, and survivors who come forward aren’t getting the support they need to continue their studies” says university student and Fair Agenda Campaigner Dani Villafaña. 

“We know that sexual violence is hugely damaging to someone’s overall wellbeing, and the impacts on a student survivor’s education can be devastating. When you’re too scared to go to campus, that means you can’t go to class, or to the library, or to academic support services. When you can’t safely access the things you need to learn, the chances of you being able to succeed academically are almost zero. And if you don’t graduate, you can’t fulfil your dream of being a doctor, or a teacher, or an engineer.” Added Ms Villafaña. 

“While student rape survivors learn that their university will not take genuine steps to allow them to continue their education safely, perpetrators learn that their university will take more severe action against them if they cheat on an exam than if they harm one - or more - of their classmates.” Ms Bremner added.

Fair Agenda and End Rape on Campus Australia have called on the Universities Accord Expert Panel to support the creation of an independent, expert-led accountability and oversight mechanism, such as a Taskforce on University Sexual Violence, with a mandate to ensure compliance with minimum standards in prevention and response; investigate complaints; facilitate transparency; and deliver enforcement where basic standards are not met.

You can add your support to the call for action here.

Fair Agenda and End Rape on Campus Australia's joint submission to the Universities Accord process is available here.

 

Written by Renee Carr
20 April 2023

I’m so proud of what our movement has achieved together this year. In key moments - from the US’s attack on abortion access, to the federal election - our movement has mobilised to demand better and campaign for changes that pull us closer to a fair and gender equal future. 

Together our people-power has been critical to: securing a strong MP Code of Conduct for a safer federal parliament; improving relationships and sexuality education in our schools; and securing commitments to stronger action on women’s safety from the new federal parliament. We’ve also laid the foundations for even more impact in the new year - for better funding of women’s safety services; accountability for institutions that cause rape survivors harm; and to address barriers to accessing abortion care.

I’m so excited and hopeful about what it’s possible for our movement to achieve together next year. But I’m also nervous, because right now Fair Agenda doesn’t yet have the funds we need to fully resource our plans for all these important campaigns in the first quarter of next year. 

Fair Agenda needs to raise a further $3,000 in donations from members before the end of the year to be on track to hit the ground running in 2023. Your gift can help the Fair Agenda team resource the next steps across our major campaigns for improved abortion access and action for victim-survivors; without having to divert precious capacity to fundraising or cutting campaign costs. 

To ensure our movement can realise this potential to improve outcomes for victim-survivors and patients seeking abortion care - I’m asking for your help. Can you make a donation to ensure the Fair Agenda movement can keep delivering these vital campaigns in the new year? 

Make a once-off donation

Start a monthly contribution

Here’s what the Fair Agenda movement made possible together in 2022:

We got a majority of federal parliamentarians committed to stronger action for women’s safety!

Ahead of this year’s election we asked all candidates if they’d champion the changes needed to end all forms of gender-based violence, through the Pledge for a Safer Future.

We secured commitments to every component of the Pledge from 16 of the MPs elected in federal parliament - including critical crossbench Senator David Pocock, all Greens Senators and MPs, and independent MPs Zoe Daniel, Kylea Tink, Monique Ryan, Allegra Spender and Andrew Wilkie. We also secured a party-wide commitment from the new ALP Government to progress action across all six categories of the Pledge.

Here’s Fair Agenda Executive Director Renee and Campaign Manager Alyssa meeting with Minister for Women Katy Gallagher about Fair Agenda member’s priorities; and the commitments the Albanese Government have made to improve outcomes for women and accelerate progress to gender equity.

Fair Agenda representatives meeting with Federal Minister for Women Katy Gallagher. From left: Campaign Manager Alyssa Shaw, Executive Director Renee Carr and Minister for Women Katy Gallagher.

We secured a Senate Inquiry into Universal Access to Reproductive Healthcare!

When the news broke that abortion rights were under attack in the US; Fair Agenda members came together to defend and advance our reproductive healthcare rights here at home.

On International Safe Abortion Day Fair Agenda brought together Independent Senator David Pocock; Greens Senator Larissa Waters and Liberal MP Bridget Archer for a press conference, to draw attention to the many practical barriers that still prevent timely access to abortion care; and the need for federal government action to address barriers. That same day we secured a Senate Inquiry into barriers to abortion and contraceptive access that is keeping a spotlight on this issue into the new year. 

Here’s a photo of Fair Agenda Campaign Manager Alyssa Shaw leading the press conference, alongside Senator David Pocock, Liberal MP for Bass Bridget Archer, Senator Larissa Waters.

a photo of Fair Agenda Campaign Manager Alyssa Shaw leading the press conference, alongside Senator David Pocock, Liberal MP for Bass Bridget Archer, Senator Larissa Waters.

We helped secure a strong Code of Conduct for federal parliamentarians!

When federal parliament began considering what standards it would require parliamentarians to meet, Fair Agenda mobilised alongside rights and integrity groups to keep a spotlight on the major changes and high standards needed to deliver a safer parliament.

Collectively, Fair Agenda members contributed 36 hours of their time to share their views on what standards should be set; and jointly called for a focus on the values of respect and integrity; and meaningful action to address sexual violence in parliament. 

Fair Agenda then identified key implementation factors that would be critical to achieving meaningful change, and recommended those changes to the committee on behalf of our members. The Fair Agenda team was then invited to give testimony on those recommendations to the Committee. Fair Agenda’s advice and recommendations were reflected in the Committee’s final report, and the strong code of conduct that has been recommended to the parliament.

Here’s a photo of Fair Agenda team members Alyssa and Renee giving testimony to the Joint Select Committee on Parliamentary Standards on behalf of Fair Agenda. 

Fair Agenda team members Alyssa and Renee giving testimony to the Joint Select Committee on Parliamentary Standards on behalf of Fair Agenda. 

We helped improve respectful relationships and sexuality education! 

When the national curriculum was up for review, hundreds of Fair Agenda members mobilised to back in expert advice calling for it to include respectful relationships content. Through the combined and coordinated efforts of survivors, policy experts, advocates and political champions, we now have comprehensive consent education in the new national curriculum!

Fair Agenda then kept up the pressure for funding to upskill and support teachers to deliver that new curriculum effectively. Working with Teach Us Consent founder Chanel Contos, Fair Agenda helped bring together a summit of high-profile leaders to talk about implementation requirements for consent and respectful relationship education; including then Minister for Social Services, Anne Ruston, and then Shadow Minister for Women, Tanya Plibersek. We were thrilled that the ALP made an election commitment in this area ahead of that summit - committing to provide $77 million over 5 years to ensure schools students are able to access high quality, age-appropriate consent and respectful relationships education.

Written by Renee Carr
15 December 2022

When federal parliament began considering what standards it would require parliamentarians to meet, Fair Agenda mobilised alongside rights and integrity groups to keep a spotlight on the major changes and high standards needed to deliver a safer parliament.

When the Joint Select Committee responsible for drafting the Code of Conduct invited submissions, Fair Agenda surveyed our members around the country to inform our submission, and key impact focuses. Collectively, Fair Agenda members contributed 36 hours of their time in responding to the survey, calling for a focus on the values of respect and integrity; and meaningful action to address sexual violence in parliament. 

The Fair Agenda team combined these member insights and mandate; with our policy expertise drawn from recent campaigns for accountability and reform in the university sector and beyond, and identified key implementation factors we believed would be critical to achieving meaningful change; and recommended those changes to the committee on behalf of our members.

In response to that submission, the Fair Agenda team were then invited to appear before the Committee, to give testimony and answer follow-up questions regarding our proposals.

 

We complemented these formal contributions to the process with additional conversations and correspondence with members of the committee, and leaders in the parliament. 

During this process, it became clear that the Committee were debating three particular topics. So, as the Committee closed hearings and begun their deliberation and drafting process; Fair Agenda developed a joint statement setting three criteria for a successful code. Namely: 

  • A prohibition on discrimination that mirrors other workplace discrimination law - to apply a similar standard preventing discrimination on the basis of ability, age, gender, intersex status, race, religion and sexual orientation.
  • An explicit expectation that MPs paid to serve in our parliament act with respect, integrity and a commitment to public service.
  • Application of these standards of conduct to personal conduct when it is relevant to someone’s responsibilities and duties in parliament. 

We were thrilled to see most of Fair Agenda’s advice and recommendations were reflected in the Committee’s final report, with almost a dozen separate references to our recommendations in the committee’s final report.

We’re proud of the role Fair Agenda played in ensuring a strong Code of Conduct was recommended and introduced into the parliament, that addresses the standards of respect and integrity that our movement has been campaigning for.

This is the first of many steps needed to deliver real change in our parliament. We have won this major battle, but there are still gaps we need to address to solve the issues that led us to this moment. 

Namely, to make sure that if allegations, like those made against Christian Porter,  happen again there is a proper and independent process in place to deal with them. There’s also further action needed to ensure that personal conduct relevant to someone’s roles or responsibilities can be investigated and addressed if needed.

Now this Code of Conduct is in place, we expect the parliament will begin the process to establish an Independent Parliamentary Standards Commission.

We're focused on ensuring this is given the strong powers and scope it needs to ensure the integrity and respect standards outlined in the Code are upheld by parliamentarians. 

We know that getting parliamentarians to agree to hold themselves accountable could be a drawn-out fight. Our movement is working to raise resources to support the critical next stage in the fight for safety and accountability in our federal parliament. Fair Agenda is a people-powered movement, and we rely on donations from members like you to deliver our campaigns. Can you support this work so our movement can keep making a difference?

Click here to support the next phase of the fight by starting a monthly donation

Click here to support the immediate next steps with a once-off donation

 

Written by Renee Carr
01 December 2022
← Previous  1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8  9    20  21  Next →