Angela Griffin – Gender Violence Research Network

February 16, 2024 | General

Angela Griffin – Gender Violence Research Network

Content Warning: This article is about gendered violence and makes references to sexual assault.

The first article in our SEN Insights series is a fireside with Angela Griffin from UNSW Gendered Violence Research Network­­­. Angela’s subject matter expertise is in sexual assault in the university context, and more importantly what can be done to eliminate it. The title of Angela’s honours thesis is ‘Beyond Change the Course: Genuine and meaningful sexual violence student activism and representation’.

So what do you think in the university context are the complexities and challenges faced by victim-survivors. 

The biggest one is that universities are big institutions especially when it comes to choosing what, as a victim-survivor, you should do next. Institutions also struggle to know what to do if a victim-survivor doesn’t choose to make a formal report and making a formal report is a massive decision. A lot of people won’t want to go down that path because you need to have evidence of what’s happened to you, which a lot of people don’t have for various reasons. They might still have a relationship with their perpetrator and a lot of people do; or maybe they just can’t stand the idea of going through a long institutional process. But unless that formal report has been submitted (which is such a long and difficult process), universities seem to throw their hands up and say “this is too difficult”. which I personally think is not right. I think support should be offered and alternate pathways of justice should be explored for victim-survivors. They need to find a way to make justice for victim-survivors outside of an investigation/complaint framework.

The most recent, the National Student Safety Survey said that 1 in 6 students have experienced sexual harassment. And 1 in 20 experienced sexual assault since starting university. So you would want your reporting to look similar. And if it doesn’t look similar, then either you haven’t promoted your reporting correctly. Or if the reporting is much higher than this a real problem on your campus.  So yeah, it’s a tough dilemma for sure, but I would encourage universities to consider high reports not as frightening a prospect as it seems.

What urgent action do you think would make a difference?

I think interpersonal conversations are always helpful. Often universities steer towards e-learning modules for an entire student population or poster campaign. And I definitely think that those are important to send that message out to your community that sexual violence is not acceptable but I also think it’s important to hold in-person conversations, in small groups, and frankly discuss the reality of sex and relationships, because I think that’s what students respond to most.

Prevention in university spaces is not particularly well researched. Universities have a responsibility to evaluate that program and have really strong evaluation frameworks and then to publish it out and let people know, which parts of your program worked, which parts of your program didn’t work.

Finally, I think, I think it’s just important to include students in strategic planning processes. If universities are making plans for what to happen next, I don’t think you can go out and say, victim-survivors, please speak to us because that’s a big ask, but statistically, if you ask students to speak to you about where your university is going with prevention and response you will receive opinions from victim survivors.

What are examples of best practice in the gendered violence space?

UNSW’s Gendered Violence Strategy and Action Plan is a really good example of a strategy that has actions. I think that that’s really important. A lot of universities write strategies but they don’t necessarily write out how they’re going to operationalise that strategy.

At the ANU, they have a really amazing team called the Student Safety and Wellbeing Team as well. That team is tasked with providing case management end to end for any student that experiences sexual violence. This person to person approach injects a lot of empathy into a process that is quite confusing and stressful and institutional for a victim survivor that’s already going through so much.

What role can student organisations play in addressing gendered violence in a university setting?

Student organisations have the ability to be agile and create campaigns and programs that can be delivered right now. Student organisations have those connections to students that the universities just simply do not. Campaigns and programs run out of student organisations can be truly informed by the students themselves. I’ve seen diverse students involved with student organisations as well through the clubs and societies and through volunteering programs.

Student organisations have a part to play in advocating to the university as well. If you’ve got an amazing campaign, if you’ve got an amazing program, you can say to the university, “we did it, you need to do something too”.

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