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Safer communities on campus

We're committed to keeping our students, staff and visitors safe

The University of Sydney fosters an inclusive campus environment where everyone in our community has the right to feel safe and supported.

At the University of Sydney, behaviour that is intimidating, abusive, discriminatory, disrespectful or threatening, including any instance of sexual harassment or assault, is absolutely unacceptable.

The values of respect and integrity are foundational to the University community. Our 2016-2020 Strategic Plan states that “all members of the University should be treated by one another as full and equal participants in the University community”. This is also reflected in the codes of conduct that set the standards for students and staff, stipulating tolerance, honesty and respect as the hallmarks of relationships throughout the University community.

The University is wholly committed to strengthening a framework of safety and support that operates with compassion and confidentiality. We are constantly examining internal processes to make improvements that increase accessibility, transparency and consistency. Many improvements have been made, but there is more to be done.

Behaviour that is intimidating, abusive, disrespectful or threatening, including any instance of sexual harassment or assault, is absolutely unacceptable within our community or on our campuses.
Vice-Chancellor Dr Michael Spence

Respect. Now. Always. 

The University of Sydney has partnered with Universities Australia and other Australian universities in a pioneering campaign to tackle the national issue of sexual harassment and assault experienced by students studying in Australia. The Respect. Now. Always. campaign calls upon Australia’s universities to take collective action to stamp out this issue across all university campuses.

Vice-Chancellor and Principal Dr Michael Spence said the problem of sexual harassment and assault was a deep and urgent national concern. "We fully support the tremendous work done by Universities Australia and the Australian Human Rights Commission to activate the Respect. Now. Always. campaign across all 39 university campuses in Australia," Dr Spence said.

National student survey

On 1 August 2017, the Australian Human Rights Commission and Universities Australia released a report on the prevalence of sexual harassment and assault experienced by university students at a national level. Nearly 31,000 students across all 39 Australian universities participated in the survey.

The report found that one in five (21%) survey respondents experienced sexual harassment at university in 2016; and approximately half of survey respondents had little or no knowledge about where to go to make a complaint or where to seek support in relation to sexual harassment.

“The report confirms the seriousness of this problem. While work has begun, there is more we can do,” said Vice-Chancellor Dr Michael Spence in a statement.

“All members of the University community can help ensure each other’s safety and wellbeing.”

“The University of Sydney will implement all of the recommendations contained within the report, and we will meet with students and staff over the coming weeks to discuss the detailed statistics and the University’s ongoing response.

“If there is more we can do to help our students, we will,” Dr Spence said.

If you are experiencing distress, please call the University’s 1800 SYD HLP (1800 793 457) helpline.

Towards a safer community for all

Since 2014, an advisory group comprised of staff and students has worked to address particular issues on campus, including sexual assault and misconduct, and racism. The group also works to foster widespread safety campaigns relating to student experience and welfare. A key directive of the group is to:

  • inform strategies to prevent sexual assault
  • enact cultural change
  • ensure support services meet the needs of those affected.

In September 2015, the University issued a student survey to gauge experiences of sexual harassment and assault on campus, and to gather feedback on the University’s procedures for reporting and student support. Nearly 2,000 students voluntarily completed the survey, which was the first of its kind at an Australian university. The data was analysed independently and a report was released outlining key findings and five recommendations, which were endorsed by the Senior Executive Group in February 2016.  

In September 2016, the University established a Safer Communities Advisory Group with representation from all student organisations, as well as representatives from staff and residential colleges. The Advisory Group reports directly to the Vice-Chancellor’s Student Consultative Committee and functions as a channel to consult with students on policy matters, programs and safety campaigns relating to student experience and welfare.

On-campus initiatives

In May 2016, the University invited business and social change leader Elizabeth Broderick AO to work with the University's affiliated residential colleges and the University on a far-reaching program of cultural reflection and change. As Australia’s sex discrimination commissioner from 2007 to 2015, Elizabeth Broderick led several investigations into gender discrimination in the Australian Defence Force, including in a residential training college. 

In Semester 2 2017, the University adopted an online educational module as a learning tool for students to understand the nature of sexual consent. Based on recommendations by the Safer Communities Advisory Group, Epigeum’s Consent Matters module was selected, and all current students were encouraged to complete the module. As of Semester 1 2018, the module is compulsory for all new undergraduate students. 

Orientation sessions for new students commencing at the University have been updated to increase understanding of student obligations and responsibility under the Student Code of Conduct. This includes  more comprehensive discussion of acceptable behaviours and what it means to study in an inclusive and respectful environment. All new students are also informed of emergency procedures, where to access support and where to go to complete important educational modules, including Consent Matters, Cultural Competence and Academic Honesty.

The 1800 SYD HLP (1800 793 457) phone service was implemented in October 2015 to improve visibility and accessibility of key support units across the University in the event of an incident. Students can be immediately connected to Campus Security, complaints handling staff, support services, and local 24/7 rape and domestic violence services. It also enables staff members to connect with staff support services and specialist advice to assist student in distress. 

The University has reviewed how we manage complaints (including reporting incidents of sexual violence) and investigations; and updated our student discipline rules to allow us to undertake investigations in a much more timely fashion, while preserving due process.

We’ve placed the needs of student survivors of sexual assault at the forefront of our revised processes, implementing a new complaints handling system that allows us to be far more transparent about the process, how long it might take, key milestones, and what to expect. Specially trained case managers prioritise complaints about an unwanted sexual experience, and contact the complainant within 24 hours.

Other improvements include the establishment of a ‘call-back’ mechanism for students, removal of the requirement for students to ‘address the report’ at the local level, and the introduction of multiple reporting channels, including via 1800 SYD HLP, online submission, the University app and a direct phone call. There are also facilities for online reports to be made by a member of staff who is assisting a student.

A program of training has been developed for key staff members who play critical first responder roles within the University, including Campus Security, the Student Affairs Unit and the Student Centre. Delivered by the Rape and Domestic Violence Services Australia, the training includes how to deal with a disclosure of sexual assault and how to respond and assist the person.

Student Residential Assistants in University-owned accommodation are also required to undertake first responder training, while more sessions are being rolled out for support service staff, faculty and school managers, and Associate Deans.

In-person bystander training is underway for students in leadership roles and within residential communities. Bystander training teaches people how to intervene in a situation and assist a person at risk of sexual assault, sexual harassment or other unacceptable behaviours. 

Amendments to the University website were made to improve access to important resources for incident reporting and accessing support. The revised websites make it easier to find and use resources such as an online complaints portal, support services for survivors, emergency information and procedures, sexual health and consent information as well as external links to assistance providers such as Rape and Domestic Violence Services Australia and 1800 RESPECT.

Specific resources have been produced to help all staff members know what to do in particular situations and how to appropriately assist students in distress. A dedicated section on the staff intranet contains key information, an in-depth guide, instructional video and links to internal and external support services.

Support for staff experiencing distress is widely available through the Employee Assistance Program, which provides confidential counselling services and wellbeing resources for all staff and can be accessed by calling 1800 SYD HLP (793 457).