Safety & harassment Ed Talk notes

ANU students joined Pro Vice-Chancellor (Student Experience) Richard Baker, University Counsel Ken Grime and Dean of Students Paula Newitt at the Brian Kenyon Student Space on 20 May to discuss safety and harassment on campus.

Question: What is the University’s policy to deal with residents of halls or residential colleges who have been accused of raping other residents? i.e. are they kicked out or allowed to remain living on campus. Relatedly, what is being done to create safe reporting environments at residential colleges? i.e. environments where people who have been raped on campus feel safe to come forward, know their story will be taken seriously and know that something will be done?

  • Ken Grime: In a situation where when one person makes an accusation against another, there are a number of policy considerations to consider. Procedural fairness infects all of the actions the University can take – allowing each party to put their side of the story is fundamental. There are also situations where people don’t want to take action and that the University will respect that choice. Disciplinary actions include the local discipline rules of a Hall (or residential College) and the Discipline Rules of the University.When accusations of violence are made, the University operates on an ‘act safe’ policy until that accusation is tested. The physical safety of students, staff or visitors to the campus is paramount: if a person has to be removed from campus to ensure that risks to health and safety are minimised the University will take that action. This process operates similar to bail conditions, where the safety of the persons involved in a trial is satisfied by imposing restrictions on the movement of an accused until the particular charges are dealt with.Where allegations arise between students located in the same hall the University takes a particular interest to ensure the well-being of all of the students involved. Where necessary that can involve students being physically separated particularly where there is a real concern about the continuing safety of any of the students involved.

    The justice system also provides orders that involve enforced separation where a court is satisfied that there are real concerns about physical safety that have not led to criminal charges. In the ACT, these are “Personal Protection Orders” or “Workplace Protection Orders”. Students are able to use the services of the lawyer provided by the student association to obtain a personal protection order if they wish to do so – which provides an additional remedy if the student is not satisfied that the direction of the University for one student to stay away from another is sufficient. The University will also consider supporting a student or alternatively obtaining a Workplace Protection Order where a student or in some cases a visitor of the campus, has not obeyed a direction of the University to stay away from a particular area or particular people.

    Specifically in relation to residential colleges – Burgmann and John 23rd, as well as Uni Lodge, the University does not have authority in relation to the running of those places. The University does take an interest in whether students are safe there and has raised concerns with the management of those organisations where students report that appropriate action has not been taken. Where a significant incident occurs in one of these places, the University is notified and takes an interest to see that the allegations are properly addressed. In addition, where necessary, the University will assist with safety of students outside the places were an incident inside the college affects that student’s participation in the broader life of the University.

Question: Can you clarify what you mean by guilty – in court or at the University?

  • Ken Grime: The University can only rule behaviour in University proceedings.The question of University Discipline proceedings and criminal proceedings conducted in a court over the same matter is worth some discussion. In a criminal trial, there is no obligation on an accused person to make any statement or give any evidence. The rule of law is “innocent until proven guilty” and it is up to the prosecution to lead evidence before a court to show that a person is guilty. Evidence led by the prosecution can involve the evidence of statements that have been made by the accused person. For example, if the University were to charge a student under the Discipline Rules and the student responded to that charge by making statements explaining their actions and so forth, those statements can be used as evidence in a criminal trial. Hence, a student may be reluctant to put their version of events forward for fear that it will be used in ways that they might not expect in a criminal trial. Hence, where a police investigation that may lead to criminal charges is being pursued at the same time as a University Discipline investigation the University will generally suspend the University enquiries until the result of the criminal investigation and trial is known. This does not mean that the University takes no action – as discussed above, it applies the “make safe” rule to ensure the safety of people on campus while these processes unfold. That can involve the suspension of an accused student from campus or restricting their movements.

Question: What is the legal standard of proof: balance of probabilities/beyond reasonable doubt?

  • Ken Grime:Where an accusation is made in a civil case that could be seen to be criminal conduct (e.g. assault/fraud), the court looks for credible evidence that carries some substantive weight, it is more than balance of probabilities (Briginshaw test) e.g. where the only witnesses are the two people involved and there is no other evidence to support one person’s account over the others, it would be difficult for a court to make a finding against one person. The University applies the same standard in Discipline Rule enquiries.

Question: How strict are your rules about protecting the integrity of evidence?

  • Ken Grime: We take this seriously and we have the ability to capture data like email trails. The University maintains backup systems.

Comment from Paul Newitt: 

The Dean of Students has an impartial role. My office is a confidential space. Sometimes students come to see me with allegations of sexual assault.

My priority is the student…after we work out what can be done to make the student safe.

We do have advice for staff available on the web – a protocol for responding to allegations of sexual assault which helps staff understand what they can do if someone comes to them with an allegation.

The process of dealing with the complaint is guided by what the student wants. Around half of students just want to talk to someone; they frequently want support from a counsellor rather than any action beyond that.

Students who wish to take further action have a variety of routes. For example, they can make a complaint to the Police with support from the ANUSA Legal Officer.

Question: What about the flow on effects between the hall’s response and the University’s response, which are inconsistent? For example, a student can be excluded from college but not from the University.

  • Ken Grime: There are colleges across campus which are run outside the University – see the comments above.University Rules force a college to advise the University if a student is found guilty of an allegation which results in their exclusion from the college. The University can also take separate disciplinary action, particularly where there is a serious allegation of sexual assault then the University would consider taking further action. A student’s exclusion for Disciplinary reasons is recorded on their transcript.

Question: I have concerns about the making safe process. If this occurs under direct threat of harm. But often the trauma is huge, living in close proximity with someone who assaulted them. The only way to deal with this is to remove the person.

  • Ken Grime: As indicated above, the University carefully assesses the situation and where appropriate takes “make safe” action to separate students on campus. It remains the case that both students have rights. For example, all students have an “occupancy” agreement that can be enforced in the local tribunal – ACAT. If the University excluded a student solely on the account of one person and did not allow the accused student appropriate levels of procedural fairness the accused student could seek an order from ACAT that they be allowed to remain in the residence.At times, unfortunately, I have seen cases of accusations of sexual assault where the claims are falsely made – leading to a similar amount of distress on the part of the student against whom the allegation has been made. The University is in a difficult situation and assesses each allegation carefully, looking at all the evidence that is available: there is no ‘victim’ or ‘perpetrator’ until the case has been proven.
  • Paula Newitt:We are extremely aware of the concerns you have raised. Frequently I will see both people, and they will both be extremely distressed and adamant about their perspective which is opposite to the other persons. It is not my role to decide what is right.My concern is when a student makes an accusation against another student within a hall of residence – these are not secretive places and sometimes people can take sides based on little or no understanding of the evidence.

Question: What are the steps ANU takes when dealing with people who have been found to have breached online harassment policy? If not answerable, why can’t students know this beyond “privacy concerns?”

  • Ken Grime: The University struggles with Facebook and similar social media sites as we don’t control them. We can ask Facebook to take down comments but they don’t have to. We try to track down perpetrators using University recourses but sometimes it is not possible to identify the person who has undertaken the harassment. If the person is identified, they are dealt with under the Discipline Rules as with any form of harassment. They can also be dealt with under the rules relating to the use of information infrastructure.

Question: If people send in screen shots is that evidence?

  • Ken Grime: Yes – you can take a screenshot of comments; take as many as you can.
  • Richard Baker: There has been harassment of individuals who stand up against people who are getting trolled. The most important thing we can do is to develop bystander intervention. One thing I’m doing is working with ANUSA to see what we can do to implement a more respectful culture online.
  • Ken Grime: ANU Stalker Space is not run by ANU. We have asked Facebook to remove the reference to “ANU” and they haven’t. It is important to understand that the University is limited in what it can achieve with social media sites.

Question: What can be done to improve lighting on campus?

  • Richard Baker: There is an audit of lights on campus every few months. The Uni Safe Committee and I are doing an audit of lights on campus next week – I’m going out with security to identify areas.We are thinking about the lighting issue more holistically when new lights are fitted. I insisted on diagonal lights for walking across the oval. These are useless for sport but good for visibility.

    We are thinking about creating buildings that can be seen inside and out.

    There is a bus on demand service which is used heavily and we take suggestions on how to improve that.

    We are also discussing what we can do for student safety for those who park in Turner.

Question: In the article written for Woroni you [Richard Baker] mentioned nine cases (of sexual assault) reported but there would have been more?

  • Richard Baker: Students’ biggest concerns are not knowing what happens when you make a report, some of the fear is also rooted in not knowing what will happen to the person they make the report about if they know them.
  • Paula Newitt: I won’t take any further action without the agreement of a student.
  • Lynda Mathey: We have been working on training to empower student leaders so they are aware of the processes of dealing with a report.
  • Richard Baker: We need to do more to improve policies. We as a University need to show leadership and do more training around respect on and off campus.
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