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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

Towards a safer community for all

Since September 2016, the University’s Safer Communities Advisory Group has driven key initiatives for change and improvement  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.

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 recommendations, which were endorsed by the Senior Executive Group in February 2016.

The Advisory Group continues to meet on a bi-monthly basis and is working to develop a 2019 action plan which will be informed by the follow-up survey to be conducted in late 2018.

Read the Creating a Safer Community for All report (PDF 80KB)

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.

Changing the course

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 provided a number of recommendations to address this issue which the University of Sydney has committed to implementing (see progress report below). The University continues to work with students and staff to work out what more can be done in this space, as part of our commitment to providing a safe, respectful and supportive environment for our university community.

Call 1800 SYD HLP (1800 793 457) if you are experiencing distress.

On-campus initiatives

In November 2017, The University of Sydney announced it will be accepting all of the recommendations contained in a report from business and social change leader Elizabeth Broderick AO on cultural renewal at its residential colleges.

The report was commissioned by the University in 2016 and five of its residential colleges – Sancta Sophia College, St Andrew’s College, St John’s College, Wesley College and Women’s College. Ms Broderick led a taskforce that over 18 months, involved extensive consultation with students, staff and alumni in all colleges. Discussion groups and interviews with 632 students and alumni and a total of 1001 students completed an online survey. The report made several ranging recommendations pertaining to student leadership structures, social events and policies, supply and demand of alcohol, safety and wellbeing, disclosure and reporting.

Read the full report (PDF 971kB)

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. In 2018, the module was made compulsory for all commencing students. In Semester 1, 2018 more than 20,00 students completed the Consent Matters module.

Two Student Liaison Officers were recruited in November 2017 to provide case management, support and advocacy for student sexual assault survivors. They provide one-on-one services tailored to each student’s needs to ensure they receive appropriate support.

The 1800 SYD HLP (1800 793 457) phone service was implemented in 2017 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, Student Liaison Officers, 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.

On 1 August 2018, the University adopted a dedicated Student Sexual Assault and Sexual Harassment Policy 2018which details how the University can best support survivors, protect confidentiality and eliminate unacceptable behaviour that does not reflect the values of this University.

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.

The 1800 SYD HLP (1800 793 457) helpline allows students to contact a Student Liaison Officer, call security, book a counselling appointment or make a formal complaint. Staff can use the helpline to receive specialist advice to assist a student in distress.

Other improvements include the implementation of a dedicated online portal for disclosure,  the establishment of a ‘call-back’ mechanism for students and removal of the requirement for students to ‘address the report’ at the local level.

Students commencing at the University are introduced to the Student Code of Conduct as part of their Orientation programs, to ensure they are aware and understand their obligations and responsibilities when studying here. Comprehensive discussions of acceptable behaviours and what it means to study in an inclusive and respectful environment form part of a student’s transition into University life. All new students are also informed of emergency procedures, where to access support and where to go to complete important educational modules, including Consent MattersCultural Competence and Academic Honesty.

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 Responding with Compassion 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. More than 400 staff members have completed this training since its implementation in 2017.

In addition, more than 200 students in leadership roles and within residential communities have undertaken in-person bystander training in 2018. 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. By the end of 2018, 560  students will have completed in-person training in bystander awareness.

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 a dedicated online portal for disclosures of sexual assault and harassment, 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).