Last week myself, the casework team and the Women’s Officers were busy responding the University’s botched sexual assault reporting portal. In case you haven’t been following the news, the University of Sydney has developed an online portal for students to report their experiences of sexual assault, and has been criticised by the SRC as “unethical and irresponsible” due to a series of egregious flaws. The portal was thrown together in less than a month in order to be released in time for the anniversary of the Australian Human Rights Commission ‘Change the Course’ report.
It also sets word limits on survivor’s stories, only current students and staff can lodge reports, and has no clear safeguards around which staff can access the portal’s sensitive data.
It is clear that this portal is not trauma-informed and does not restore power and control to survivors. Placing arbitrary restrictions on how survivors express themselves undermines survivors and exacerbates trauma.
Total anonymity is not at all ensured, as students must access the portal through their university log-in, with no sense of clarity as to who is accessing survivors’ reports. This also excludes members of the public who may need to report, such as a year 12 student raped at a college formal.
The portal also asks survivors for their gender, sexuality and post-assault therapeutic history.
This is an intrusion and irrelevant to how the University processes the complaint. Students should not feel like their ability to lodge a complaint is conditional on their willingness to have their privacy violated.
Asking about therapeutic history is as appropriate as asking about what medical services they might have accessed post-assault such as STI testing or abortion.
The primary purpose of the reporting portal is for survivors to lodge complaints – not to survey them for internal data analysis purposes.
The Students’ Representative Council pushed for the University to delay the release of the portal and to consult with experts and staff in its development. University management failed to act on any of the major concerns, instead pushing ahead with releasing the portal.
As a result of the rushed release, the portal was released with additional flaws – a student was transferred to the staff not student reporting options. And the link to the reporting portal was broken for days after the Wednesday 1 August release.
We are now in talks with senior management to find out how this occurred and will continue pushing for our recommended changes to the portal, including consultation from experts.
Finally, nominations for the SRC’s annual elections are officially open. These elections will determine the new President of the SRC, the editors of Honi Soit, the councillors for the 91st SRC Council as well as your delegates to the National Union of Students. If you have ever wanted to get more involved in the SRC this is your chance. You can visit srcusyd.net.au/elections/ for more information.
Feel free to email me on firstname.lastname@example.org if you have any concerns or wish to get involved with the SRC. I wish you the best of luck for the year ahead and look forward to seeing you on the streets!