By Helena Burke
Content warning: this article contains discussion of sexual assault, sexual harassment, and institutional betrayal.
Labor Senator Kristina Keneally addressed parliament on Monday with a speech condemning ANU’s handling of sexual assault and sexual harassment on campus. Keneally said that ANU’s rate of sexual violence was double that of the national university average and condemned ANU’s cost-cutting to residential hall staff members.
In the speech, Keneally stated that institutions like the ANU are in a “unique position” to address sexual violence on campus. Despite this, she said that universities “are failing in this duty,” and “contributing to a culture of abuse and victimisation in institutions that should be safe havens for young people”.
The speech comes in light of the 2017 Australian Human Rights Commission’s (AHRC) Change the Course report, which found that ANU had higher than average rates of sexual violence.
ANU has defended its handling of sexual violence within the University since the release of the AHRC report. An ANU spokesperson stated that the University had “achieved all of the AHRC recommendations, including an external review of student residences”. The spokesperson emphasised the University’s work on developing cultural action plans, the establishment of the Respectful Relationships Unit, and additional pastoral support staff at student residences.
PARSA and ANUSA released a report in August, One Step Forward, Two Steps Back which detailed the slow progress of ANU in addressing sexual violence on campus. The report acknowledged that while some progress has occurred, students continued to face “the same bureaucratic issues which have impeded progress in the past”. The report also claimed that the Respectful Relationships Working Group had received “so little resourcing as to be ineffective”. Over the past two years, there have been ongoing delays in the development of initiatives like the Code of Conduct and an online reporting tool.
Keneally echoed these concerns in her speech, claiming that ANU’s response to the AHRC report’s findings has been “manifestly inadequate”. Keneally condemned ANU’s cuts to senior university staff at residential halls claiming that ANU was not only “failing victims of sexual assault and sexual harassment” but also “forcing its students to become the front line” in dealing with sexual violence-related issues.
The speech read by Keneally was drafted by ANU students Kate Bomm and Camille Schloeffel. Bomm was a participant in the Jasiri ‘Girls Takeover Parliament’ program, which saw her paired with Keneally for the day. The program aims to “encourage and enable young women to pursue leadership positions and open up organisations to fresh perspectives”.
Schloeffel, also the founder of the STOP Campaign, says that if ANU is to be successful in addressing sexual violence at the university it needs to foster ongoing student input in the process. Schloeffel told Observer that ANU will “only go backwards” without student input. “This is lives we’re talking about,” she said.
Senator Keneally’s office did not respond to requests for comment.
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