“#NeverOK.” It’s a slogan you may have seen blu-tacked to the Morris Miller walls, graffitied on the toilet doors, or scrawled across a piece of paper, sopping wet and covered in muddy footprints outside Lazenby’s, but what’s it all about? #NeverOK is the TUU’s brand-spanking-new campaign designed to tackle the prevalence of sexual harassment and abuse on campus. With a focus on zero-tolerance and the eradication of victim shaming and embarrassment, this campaign isn’t just for victims or perpetrators: it’s for everyone.
#NeverOK complements the existing campaign, ‘Respect. Now. Always.’ run throughout all Australian universities, including UTas. However, the new campaign aims to address the issue from a new angle, by working in collaboration with the University to improve the policies and procedures regarding sexual harassment on campus, and to actively inform all UTas students that the TUU and the university have a strict zero-tolerance policy towards sexual assault.
TUU President Clark Cooley explains that as a student representative body, the TUU felt a duty to respond to calls for more action against sexual harassment and assault on campus. “For us this included calling upon the university to better educate students about the policies and practices we have to minimise the counts of sexual harassment and assault at UTas.” Clark maintains the importance of ensuring that all students, new and returning, are aware of the minimum acceptable standards for behaviour. “It should be clear to every staff member, student and those in the community that the University has a zero-tolerance policy on sexual assault and sexual harassment.”
“It’s a sad reality that sexual assault impacts us all at some stage in our lives, whether it be ourselves, a family member, or a friend,” explains Dan Probert, Campus President North. “This campaign is not about any one incident, but about all.
“The long-term goal [of the campaign] is a university, and ultimately a community, free from sexual assault. The university students of today are the community leaders tomorrow. What’s more, they are, or will be, mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters and friends. If we eradicate sexual assault here on campus, then the flow on effect of that to the community over time will be enormous.”
Whilst Dan acknowledges that it is unlikely a change like this will occur overnight, he believes that every small step taken in the right direction is an important one.
So, what is harassment? According to the ‘University Behaviour Policy’, harassment is defined as ‘behaviour which offends, humiliates, intimidates, insults or ridicules another person in circumstances which a reasonable person would have anticipated that the victim would be offended, humiliated, intimidated, insulted or ridiculed.’ This definition of harassment demonstrates how harassment is not always obvious, but could be experienced in something as small as a passing touch, or inappropriate comments and questions. The TUU are advocating that this sort of behaviour is Never OK.
Often one of the most challenging aspects for people who experience sexual harassment or abuse is the multitude of emotions that come with choosing to tell someone else, particularly someone in authority. Shame, fear, anxiety, are commonplace when working through questions such as,‘Will I be judged as making this bigger than it is? Is it just my fault its happening? Will there be some form of retribution? Will the systems that are meant to protect me fail me instead?’ These sorts of questions can delay a person making a report, which can result in further harm.
However, Colin Clark (UTas Head of Student Wellbeing) explains that the process doesn’t have to start with a formal intervention. “At UTas the systems in place aim to provide options for the person reporting. The first step is to simply let another person know something has or is happening that you don’t feel comfortable with. This can be a Behaviour Contact Officer, a Student Adviser, or a Counsellor. They can help you unpack what is happening and the impact it is having for you. They can also advise as to the next possible steps to take. The aim is to give back as much control to the individual as possible.”
Students can also make use of the formal UTas reporting mechanisms available, such as the university incident notification form. A new platform, dubbed MySafety, is set to be introduced by the end of April. This will be the primary point for all formal reports of abuse of harassment. Additionally, students may contact an external reporting agency such as the National Hotline – 1800 737 732.
Another stumbling block for students considering making a report is the question of evidence; is it necessary to have evidence to make a report? And how much would I need to substantiate my claim? However, Colin explains that a lack of evidence should never stop a person making a report. “Evidence helps, but it isn’t essential. Evidence can be hard to substantiate, particularly if there are no witnesses or electronic trails. This often stops people from reporting as they fear it is just ‘my word against someone else’s…’. Report it anyway. All incidents are worth reporting. It’s the only way the university community can work together to help change things for the better.”
So, what can a student expect when they report an incident of sexual harassment? According to Colin, one possible outcome of a report could be that all parties are interviewed by a university staff member, helping to clarify the situation by considering different perspectives. Each case will then be developed according to how complex the range of issues are. If there is any immediate danger, Security and Police will be contacted.
Each case is considered carefully before any intervention is followed. The nature of an intervention is dependent upon a number of factors, and can range from an initial discussion right through to clear intervention involving disciplinary procedures (University Ordinances)
In regards to confidentiality, students can feel confident the information in their report will be treated with sensitivity and respect. “What information needs to be released and to whom is discussed clearly and agreed to,” explains Colin. The first thing that absolutely changes with any report is that someone who needs to know and can help, now knows. Any steps to be taken following the report will be negotiated one at a time.
“Never underestimate the significance of that first reporting step.”
For the University, sexual harassment and assault is a black and white issue. It’s Never Ok, regardless of the circumstances. As a student body, we can change the culture around sexual assault and harassment on campus. Reporting, supporting and helping those affected by the issue is everybody’s responsibility – no one is alone in these incidents.
For more information on the campaign, visit: tuu.com.au/neverok
Details regarding who to contact if you, or someone you know is experiencing sexual assault or harassment can also be found below.
University Behaviour policy:
Behaviour Contact Officer:
Formal UTAS reporting of Abuse:
University of Tasmania statement of values:
University incident report form:
If this article brings up any issues for you, contact 1800 RESPECT (1800 737 732) or visit 1800respect.org.au. They are the national sexual assault and domestic family violence counseling service.