My name is Professor Sharon Pickering, Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Education) and Senior Vice-President at Monash University. I’m a criminologist and have worked on violence against women for more than 30 years.
I would like to begin today by acknowledging the people of the Kulin Nations, the traditional owners of the land on which I am located. I pay my respects to their Elders, past and present.
I welcome the opportunity to appear before the Committee today on behalf of the Group of Eight (Go8).
The Go8 comprises Australia’s leading research-intensive universities, and we are united in ensuring all students and staff feel safe, supported and welcome.
Go8 universities, and indeed all universities, have a responsibility for working with our communities in preventing and responding to sexual harm.
All Go8 universities have strong policies and procedures in place for preventing and responding to sexual harm, and some are world leaders in the development of primary prevention initiatives. We are committed in our work to continue to improve our approaches and impact.
We seek to support victim-survivors, respond justly and empathetically to all disclosures and reports, and implement evidence-based prevention programming for staff and students.
We strongly support the focus on primary prevention in eliminating gender-based violence.
The current inconsistencies in defining consent are challenging, particularly in the context of our role as universities supporting large communities of staff and students who come from varied and diverse states and countries.
Harmonisation of consent laws, undertaken at the highest standard, would enable consent education to be:
- Clearly and consistently communicated to all students and staff as it will not be jurisdictionally dependent; and
- Better embedded in more comprehensive approaches to fostering safe and respectful environments that extend from primary and secondary education through to post-secondary education settings and into the workforce.
The Go8 would like to confirm:
- The Go8 supports the harmonisation of consent laws and of affirmative consent.
- The Go8 supports introducing compulsory consent education for all students and staff.
- The Go8 supports compulsory consent education that is embedded in wider primary prevention activity that is appropriately resourced, evidence based and tailored to the student populations our members are serving.
- The Go8 supports partnering with student associations in co-designed and co-delivered primary prevention activities.
- The Go8 has established a SASH (Sexual Assault and Sexual Harassment) Working Group and holds regular forums to share best practice.
- The Go8 draws on world leading expertise to offer best practice guidance to all aspects of work in this area.
- The Go8 supports the development of a national education framework on sexual consent that operates across all secondary and tertiary education settings.
All Go8 members are already actioning these principles through a range of collaborative training and reporting initiatives specific to each university and its student cohort.
I want to offer greater depth of what this actually looks like in the Go8 by speaking directly to some examples of what Monash University offers at this time.
- All new students at Monash complete compulsory consent and respectful relationships education as part of the Respect at Monash module since 2019. Staff and higher degree research students also complete nuanced versions of this module.
- All residents living on-campus at Monash Residential Services and Mannix College complete the online consent, sex and respect course, Sexpectations, co-designed with students and the South Eastern Centre Against Sexual Assault.
- Residential Advisors, and various other student leaders completed BRIGHT training which is an in-person prevention of sexual harm and gender-based violence program.
- An online module on Responding to Disclosures of Sexual Harm, developed in partnership with SECASA, is available to staff and students.
- The Monash bSafe app, introduced in 2020 and downloaded more than 14,000 times, provides important Monash University support services and resources and supports anonymous reporting.
- SECASA provides independent, therapeutic counselling and support to survivors of sexual assault and family violence on Monash University campuses.
- Monash has had a dedicated team focused on the prevention of sexual harm and gender-based violence since 2018. The Respectful Communities team (currently six full-time equivalent) comprises experts with backgrounds in gender studies and the prevention of violence, public health and health promotion, education, law, human rights and social justice. The team also engages more than 30 student casual employees to ensure all initiatives are co-designed, incorporating student lived experiences and expertise.
- Monash’s Safer Community Unit provides support and advice to students, staff and the wider community who have experienced harm, including sexual harm (currently six full-time equivalent).
Acknowledging submission to Committee
I note that a number of submissions to the inquiry identified the importance of consent education also supporting broader work on “students ability to recognise and understand the nuances and ambiguities that can occur during sexual activities and the skills and knowledge to navigate these:”
- Flip the Script has run at Monash since 2019. It remains the only sexual violence prevention program which has been evaluated in a clinical trial and shown to significantly reduce the incidence of rape and other forms of sexual assault. It’s one critical piece of our comprehensive strategy to prevent rape and other forms of sexual violence on our campuses.
- In 2020, Monash introduced The Masculinities Project to engage men and gender-diverse students in transforming dominant notions of masculinities as a means of promoting gender equality and preventing gender-based violence.
- Since 2019, Monash has supported our student organisations in the delivery of a Safe n Sexy Week across our campuses which focuses on encouraging students to learn more about respectful, safe and fun sex and relationships.
All Go8 members run similar initiatives and share training materials as well as other resources and materials developed with other universities within and beyond the Go8.
Let me conclude by reiterating the Go8’s commitment to prevent and respond to gender-based violence and sexual harm. We remain committed to building a thriving, inclusive and safe community for our staff and students, now and for the future.