Months On, Sexual Assault Reform Policies Mostly Not Delivered

Content Warning: Sexual assault and harassment, institutional betrayal.

After the Australian Human Rights Commision report put sexual assault and sexual harassment on campus under the spotlight, ANU has sought to position itself as a swift responder to the issue. The University made nine key promises for improvement, but three months on, none have been fully kept. We’ve summarised each commitment, why it’s important, and what ANU has and has not achieved.

So Where Are We At?

Students across Australia were asked about their experiences of sexual assault and harassment on-campus, at university related events, and in general life as part of the AHRC survey into sexual assault and harassment last year. In the survey, ANU students reported incidents of sexual assault and harassment at a rate at 57% compared to the 51% national average. This increase is a reflection of a higher rate of assault and harassment in halls and colleges, where ANU is 11 points above the national average.  

In response to these statistics and protests from student groups on campus, Vice Chancellor Brian Schmidt announced the hiring of consultancy firm Rapid Context to review ANU’s policies and practice for reporting and responding to sexual assault and harassment. While this effort was welcomed, the review was criticised by student groups for not consulting survivors. The full report was released in November 2017 and included 20 recommendations. The ANU responded by committing to nine policy changes, which broadly cross-referenced the recommendations. As an ongoing series, Observer will be keeping track of promises made by ANU in addressing sexual assault and sexual harassment on campus.

Promise Report Card

Timeline of Implementation

Delivered? No.

The ANU committed to drawing a timeline for the implementation of its promises in November 2017, stating it “will develop clear timeframes for implementing review recommendations and ways to evaluate effectiveness of changes”. The AHRC report recommended this as it would provide students with concrete deadlines to which they could hold their university, and avoid universities delaying action indefinitely.

In a statement to Observer, an ANU spokesperson said, “Work is ongoing to address all our commitments as soon as possible.” No timeline has been published as yet, although ANU claims a draft plan is in development. As of the date of publishing, the ANU has also not provided any timeline on the creation of the promised timeline.

Implementing Strategy and Ongoing Evaluation

Delivered? Not really.

It is not clear to whom this promise is directed, but public information points to staff focused resources. ANU appointed a ‘Respectful Relationships Project Manager’ in December 2017 to oversee the involvement of Rapid Context within the implementation process. Apart from creating this position, ANU has pages on its website publicising their commitment to addressing sexual assault and harassment generally on campus. ANU did not elaborate to Observer on the scope of this promise.

Research into Restorative Justice Mechanisms

Delivered? No.

In the Rapid Context Review process excluded restorative justice advocates due to time constraints, thought the final report was ultimately late.  Despite this, ANU made a promise to further investigate incorporation of restorative justice processes in the reporting of sexual assault and harassment.

Currently, the only available opening for restorative justice research thus far has been through the ‘Respectful Relationships Working Group’ and related Steering Committee. The Working Group is a meeting of experts, which make recommendations to the Steering Committee, who have the final say on the implementation of recommendations. These consultations have been stifled by institutional complexity, with seperate bodies not communicating with each other.

Codie Bell, Founder of Restorative ANU, is a member of the student Working Group which advises the main group. Bell disputed the efficiency of current institutional processes, saying that the Group has had “little engagement from the RR Steering Committee”. Bell is concerned that “the Steering Committee has absolutely not learnt the lesson from the disastrous rapid context process”, citing lack of engagement with survivors and allies.

ANU disputes this characterisation, highlighting “expert presentations” on restorative justice research within the Respectful Relationships committees, and meetings with ‘ANU representatives’ via workshops. Bell was not privy to these consultations in her statement to Observer. In the upcoming review of halls and residences, ANU says that it “may also include the use of restorative practices.”

Changes to the Discipline Rule

Delivered? Maybe soon.

The Discipline Rule are a set of Commonwealth regulations that outline how misconduct is handled at ANU. This promise comes in the wake of analysis in the Rapid Context Review, which concluded that ANU online materials misled students on how to report sexual assault to the university. Pro-Vice Chancellor (University Experience) Richard Baker stated that the changes would “include sexual misconduct and training of senior staff to respond to allegations”. Baker stated that these changes “‘will take place in March”’.

ANU Women’s Officer Laura Perkov has been monitoring progress of the Rules changes despite not being a member either the Working Group or Steering Committee. She said the implementation of these changes has “stalled”, and expressed frustration with a lack of public information. “Students have a right to know what decisions are being made, and how, because these students will be directly and deeply impacted by them,” she told Observer. ANU disputes this characterisation.

Communication of Values

Delivered? Sort of.

The implementation of this promise since July 2017 has been ad-hoc, with ANU pulling out a lot of resources to state values each time a critical report is released. With the release of the Red Zone Report, for example, an ANU spokesperson said that “sexist and harassing behaviour has no place at the ANU.” However, there are no public documents articulating any sustained strategy to maintain adherence to these values outside of major news events, besides the Consent Matters Module.

‘First Stop’ Unit

Delivered? No.

This promise is to alleviate a coordination problem ANU currently faces, especially in relation to the provision of services. In July 2017, ANU announced the employment of a full-time on-campus sexual assault counsellor in collaboration with ANUSA. In partnership with the Canberra Rape Crisis Centre, ANU has also had more counsellors available for students in relation to sexual assault and sexual harassment since August. Since then, ANU has not publically progressed their promise in coordinating on-campus responses to incidents. However, this may be forthcoming once the internal reviews of residential hall and colleges is complete.

Clear and Easy Complaints Procedure

Delivered? No.

Students’ exposure to ANU procedures will differ depending on where they live. While complaints procedures have been proven ineffective within halls and colleges in addressing sexual assault and harassment, the Senior Resident system attempts to make these processes clear to students. However, if students live off campus, ANU’s online resources for reporting SASH are hard to find. Often students looking for information may be directed to resources intended for staff, a problem the Rapid Context review found to be common.

Experiences of Higher Degree Research (HDR) Students

Delivered? In part.

Along with highlighting high levels of sexual harassment and assault in halls and colleges, Rapid Context also published systemic failures responses to the experiences of HDR students. In PARSA’s first PRC of the year, HDR Officer Bethany Ellis said that supervisor training now clarifies escalation procedures. However, she still holds concerns over power imbalances still present within the small HDR community ‘making anonymous reporting difficult.’ ANU has not outlined any developments to its promises in relation to HDR students in its communication with Observer.

Resources and Training for Students and Staff

Delivered? Somewhat.

After the release of the Red Zone Report, media was linked to a news centre with resources that have remained unchanged since 2017. This includes both the Consent Matters module and disclosure training for staff. The Consent Matters Module has been more widely used – Perkov recognised the wider implementation of the module, but stated that measures “need to find a way to reach students outside of the residential bubble, and aren’t first years, in order to foster holistic and sustained change”. Various members of Senior Resident teams have told Observer they were pleased with the increase in implementation of Consent Matters module. Baker in his statement to Observer described the usage of the module as “extensive”, and placed these programmes at the forefront, possibly in an effort to address ANU’s high incidence rates at halls and colleges.


Disclaimer: Jessica Whiting was a Residential Advisor at UniLodge in 2017.


If you have been sexually assaulted, or affected by a sexual assault, support is available:

Canberra Rape Crisis Centre: (02) 6247 2525 (7am-11pm)

1800 RESPECT (24/7)

ANU Counselling: 02 6125 2442 (9am-5pm, Mon-Fri)

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