Cultural Change and individual impact: towards respectful relationships on Australian campuses
Sue Webeck, manager of The Australian National University’s (ANU) newly set-up Respectful Relationships Unit, describes the university’s approach in responding to the issues raised in the Human Right’s Commission’s ‘Change the Course Report: National Report on Sexual Assault and Sexual Harassment at Australian Universities’ in 2017, and the challenges involved in creating systemic change while responding to the ongoing needs of survivors.
Part of the ANU response and leadership in responding to issues of sexual misconduct has been the establishment of the Respectful Relationships Unit. This unit’s remit is broad and covers primary prevention, policy, response to incidents, education, training and data collection. This work is for the whole community, staff and students. This is a resource and an opportunity for whole of community cultural change.
The Respectful Relationships unit is in its first six months of existence. In that time, we have been working to set up a sustainable and functional unit with all of the necessary components like staff recruitment, program and training development, research and intervention modelling as well as information gathering on the University’s activities in this area. The need in this space is immediate and often personal and we have not been able to solely focus on development of the Unit, our frameworks or policies. We have needed to also respond to the individuals seeking support or intervention. This work reminds us why a Unit like ours exists and it is a privilege to be trusted by these survivors to support them in these moments.
To develop the ANU Sexual Violence Prevention Strategy we drew on government and NGO resources and expertise, in addition to consulting the ANU community and the ACT service sector. Two key resources came from OurWatch, a Melbourne-based NGO dedicated to ending violence against women and children - Change the Story: A shared framework for the primary prevention of violence against women in Australia and Counting the Change – A Guide to Prevention Monitoring. We also drew from the Victorian Health Promotion Foundation’s document Free from Violence: Victoria’s Strategy to Prevent Family Violence and all forms of Violence against Women. The strategy should be released later in 2019. It will be accompanied by a Sexual Misconduct Policy for the ANU, a document which tells the community that everyone’s experience at ANU should be free from violence.
Policies and Strategies can be used to signal the University’s commitment to cultural change but do they create it? The short answer is no, but it does give us the opportunity to engage people in the discussions which will result in cultural change.
Cultural Change which sees everyone practicing confident and consistent respectful relationships will take time. We have people at many stages of the journey and a collaborative approach is key to ensuring the impact of our work is transformative and enduring but for those with lived experience the individual impact can and should be felt immediately. With a dedicated Unit that can assist in navigating referral pathways to care and support, help demystify the formal reporting process and provide advice to people who may be supporting them: the experience for people disclosing instances of sexual misconduct is changing. With such a large and often transient community it is a challenge to ensure everyone is equipped to respond to survivors in positive ways but we anticipate by being proactive and visible, individuals will be able to identify their limitations in this area and seek our support.
Opportunities like the upcoming survey announced by Universities Australia on the 16 August 2019, will support us to see and measure what we are achieving or not and in order to focus our resources on creating cultural change and having immediate impact for individuals who have experienced incidents of sexual misconduct. Initiatives like this will continue to help us understand the nature of the issues in our specific community so that we can better position ourselves in responding to our community’s needs. Combating sexual assault and sexual harassment is a global societal issue which cannot be solved overnight and it will take every one of us standing up against violence in all its forms. We will not solve this alone but we are committed to ensuring ANU is working to combat it every day and we welcome everyone on this journey with us.