Sexual assault anywhere, anytime and committed by anybody is an unforgivable act.
The alarming incidence of sexual assault on university campuses must no longer be ignored.
Along with many of my constituents, I welcomed the University of Sydney’s announcement last week that they have improved their reporting mechanisms.
The University’s decision to engage the respected former sex discrimination commissioner Elizabeth Broderick to address the concerning culture in campus colleges shows leadership and real action.
But what is clear is that this is a pervasive problem affecting campuses across the State; a problem that requires leadership and action from Government.
To this end, the question must be asked: After two years, why has the Minister for Education still not acted on requests from St John’s College to restructure its council following the near-death of a student in a botched initiation ritual in 2012?
Given the recent reporting of sexualised and inappropriate behaviour at university colleges, I’d think this would be a high order priority for the Minister, but it’s clear that when it comes to cleaning up campus culture, this Government is content to leave the task of fixing the problem to others.
Speaker, that’s not good enough.
The University of Sydney recently released results of a September 2015 survey showing an alarming 25% of students had experienced sexual harassment, or assault, unwelcome sexual behavior, stalking or indeed rape.
The National Union of Students’ report entitled Let’s Talk About It puts the national figure at closer to 75%.
We’ve seen revelations that female student’s names and supposed sexual relationships are published in a Wesley College journal called Rackweb.
Wesley students were made to apologise after visiting the Kings Court Massage Parlour as part of an initiation prank and threatening to expose the identities of sex workers.
Earlier this year, UNSW college students were caught singing a misogynistic chant that glorified rape, sparking student protests.
These problems are not new, but they’re also not going to go away by themselves.
In 2012, a young woman almost died at Sydney Uni’s St John’s College after drinking a deadly concoction of alcohol, shampoo, dog food, Tabasco sauce and rancid milk.
The St John’s College Act – gives the NSW Government responsibility for the make-up of the college’s governing council.
Following the incident, the College requested the Minister act to clean up the college.
But it’s been two years and the College is still waiting.
I’m deeply concerned about what message that sends to students.
We need concrete action to remove sexual assault and harassment from the university experience and we’re not getting it from this Government.
The recent response from the University of Sydney shows leadership, but it still represents action on just one campus.
And the problem isn’t just limited to colleges.
We need to fundamentally alter campus culture if we’re to eliminate sexual assault.
I gave notice of a motion last month calling on the Baird Government to investigate introducing mandatory consent training on our university campuses.
Teaching active consent ensures there is a broad understanding that someone who is silent, incapacitated or not resisting sex is clearly not giving consent.
It ensures that consent is understood as an ongoing process, so that saying yes to one thing does not immediately give permission for everything.
It means students understand that consent must be continually sought and given and redefines the responsibilities students have to one another.
There are precedents around the world for this approach:
California became the first state in the U.S. to define consent along these lines and to force colleges to scrupulously investigate allegations of sexual assault.
Cambridge and Oxford universities in the UK are now enforcing compulsory consent workshops for all College residents.
I gave notice of my motion because we owe it to the young victims, the vast majority of whom are women, to do something about this problem.
Shadow Minister for Education, Jihad Dib and I, have written to the Minister demanding prompt action at St John’s and at university colleges across NSW.
We’ve written to the Minister - and I’m speaking up now -because we know we have to act to clean up campus culture and to stop sexual assault and harassment.
We owe it to Universities that are stepping up to the challenge but want to be backed in by the Government.
We owe it to those who have bravely spoken out for justice and who refuse to stay silent anymore.
And we owe it to the young people who will fall victim to the same crimes unless we do something about the problem now.
Silence and inaction is not good enough.
It’s time to act now.