Australian universities can learn a lot from the Australian Defence Force — and not just how to apply the Art of War to the boardroom.
Like the ADF, the universities are about to have to deal with the fallout of damning results of a report by the Human Rights Commission (HRC). Similar to the ADF, the universities also had ample warning of the cultural issues that allowed the abuse to occur and failed to heed the warnings. They will now be faced with impending furore and media frenzy. But with great challenges comes great opportunity.
Even before the results of the HRC survey of 39,000 students into instances of sexual harassment on campuses are released, it has already caused quite the stir. There have been allegations of everything from unconscionable research to the ethics of ‘mining students for stories’.
Watch: There’s a stark difference in how men and women ‘avoid’ sexual violence on a daily basis:
When the HRC said they weren’t going to publicly release the data on individual universities, it was met with uproar. “How dare these institutions shelter behind a commission to protect their funding,” we surmised.
But let’s be brutal here: sexual assault and sexual abuse within institutions isn’t a new thing. In fact, some may say it’s rife. Even with the best intentions, it will never be stamped out. But what we can all do in every community is make it easier for the people impacted to come forward and be supported through the process.
I’ve been working with survivors of sexual assault, rape and abuse for many years now. As a lawyer who specialises in assisting survivors to gain access to justice, I have heard some pretty gut-wrenching and alarming stories of failure in management that allowed the abuse to occur. But there are many things I have been fortunate enough to learn from survivors of abuse – and one is courage. Courage to stand up and be heard. Courage to challenge the institution itself. Courage to bare all and disclose intimate details aware of the risk that it could become public, and the courage to face being judged.
The last time the HRC undertook a commission to research and address victims of sexual abuse was with the Australian Defence Force. The Commission made a series of recommendations as part of that research and as a result, the ADF was able to start effecting change within that particular institution. But there are many more institutions, and there is much more work to be done.