La Trobe University Shepparton tackling sexual harassment and assault

By Tara Whitsed

La Trobe University’s Shepparton Student Association has joined with staff in tackling the issue of sexual harassment and assault on campus after the release of a new plan.

A 10-point plan to ban inappropriate sexual or romantic relationships between academic supervisors and their students has been released by Universities Australia, following a survey that took place with students one year ago.

The organisation, together with the National Tertiary Education Union, the Council of Australian Postgraduate Associations and the Australian Council of Graduate Research yesterday released its ‘Principles for Respectful Supervisory Relationships’ plan as part of the sector’s respectful behaviour initiative.

The initiative comes after the Australian Human Rights Commission published the national Change the Course report, informed by the results of the survey conducted 12 months ago.

Shepparton Student Association president Jess Grant said the results made for uncomfortable reading and showed the unacceptable prevalence of sexual harassment and sexual assault across the university community, especially among women, trans and gender diverse students.

‘‘Everyone at La Trobe University has been working hard to ensure that our campuses are safe places to be, and staff are focused on supporting student safety and respectful relationships on campus,’’ she said.

‘‘We are taking a primary prevention approach to sexual harassment and assault by directly addressing the underlying causes and drivers of gendered violence through the promotion of gender equality in all areas of the university.’’

Students at La Trobe University’s Shepparton campus have access to an anonymous reporting system Speak Up — a university-wide initiative that offers advice and support to students and staff in relation to intimidation, harassment, discrimination, all forms of violence (including sexual and physical assault), and other forms of unacceptable behaviour.

A La Trobe University spokesperson said more than 12000 students, many of whom attended the Shepparton campus, had participated in training modules which aimed to prevent sexual harassment and assault.

Universities Australia chief executive Catriona Jackson said the new guidelines indicated student and academic relationships were never okay.

‘‘These principles make it clear — if a university academic is supervising a student, then they should not be in a romantic or sexual relationship with that student. It’s a clear conflict of interest,’’ she said.