La Trobe responds to sexual harassment

23rd August 2017

Written by: Aseel Sammak

Alarming survey results has La Trobe moving towards change.

A recent Human Rights Commission report revealed that more than half of all university students had experienced sexual harassment or assault in 2016.

The report showed La Trobe University is the worst Victorian university, with nearly one in three students reporting that they have been sexually harassed on campus or to and from campus.

In a closed group on Facebook, La Trobe students weren’t surprised by the results and voiced concerns about the University’s current policy.

“I have felt unsafe on campus before because I was being stalked. I tried to report it but couldn’t really find the help I needed. I was referred to a counsellor, which wasn’t what I wanted or what I was expecting,” an anonymous student tells upstart.

La Trobe University’s Vice-Chancellor and the La Trobe Student Union President (LTSU) responded to the survey in a joint statement.

“We are very concerned by the behaviours identified in this survey and that some people wrongly believe it’s OK to behave in this way, be it in a university lecture hall, on public transport or in the local community.”

Professor Richard Frampton, La Trobe University’s Director of Student Services and Administration echoed the sentiments of the Vice-Chancellor and the LTSU President.

“I think we are now seeing it is much more prevalent than what we might have thought… We need to take a victim-centred approach, we need to be clear about the sanctions. Most of all, I believe and certainly university management believes, that we absolutely need to drive a cultural change,” he tells upstart.

Richard Frampton speaking on the Survey to upstart

The LTSU has also responded to the survey. “If anything this is an awakening, a call to action” Umukalthum, LTSU Education/Vice-President tells upstart.

“We will be continuing to obviously work with the University and holding them accountable wherever necessary, whether it’s working on procedural and policy changes… at the end of the day the priority is to ensure that students feel safe on campus…” she says.

Umukalthum Sheeqey speaking on the survey to upstart

In the past two weeks, representatives from the La Trobe Speak Up service had a stall at the Agora, the central hub of the University. They wanted to inform students of the service and encourage them to report any form of abuse or harassment.

Despite the promises to “ramp up the services”, and the acknowledgement by University management that a lot has to be done to combat sexual harassment and assault on campus, some students are still concerned.

On Thursday, 10 August, a group of students organised a public meeting in the Agora, holding up placards with slogans like “La Trobe is a Rape Campus.”

“We aren’t looking for excuses from our university, we need to demand solutions and support for survivors and victims!” the organisers posted on a Facebook event page.

“One of the things that we would really like to see which we have not seen is any discussion of perpetrators. I’m not sure how you can address a problem if you are not even willing to address what is causing it,” Sharna Bremner, from End Rape on Campus Australia, said.

The conversation will continue at La Trobe University. A wide cross-section of the La Trobe community is hoping to see a real improvement in policies and services in the near future.

 

Aseel is a fifth year Bachelor of Laws/Bachelor of Arts major in Journalism student; you can follow her on twitter @AseelSammak or subscribe to her magazine, Podium.