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Australia 'Walk with purpose and confidence': UNSW's sexual assault advice prompts outcry

17:06  14 september  2018
17:06  14 september  2018 Source:   smh.com.au

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The email has received backlash from students for placing the onus on victims of sexual assault. © Ryan Stuart The email has received backlash from students for placing the onus on victims of sexual assault. A Sydney university has been criticised for sending an email telling staff and students to "walk with purpose and confidence" and avoid looking at their phones to stay safe in light of a recent sexual assault near campus.

The email sent on Friday by the University of New South Wales (UNSW) came in response to a sexual assault that took place near a UNSW campus at night earlier in the week.

"UNSW Security works to provide a safe and secure campus, but we would also like to remind all students and staff about personal safety, particularly at night," the email said.

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The email asks staff and students to follow a list of "important steps", such as "walk to your destination with friends or colleagues" after dark; don't "walk with your head down looking at your phone"; "walk with purpose and confidence"; and "keep valuables out of sight".

The email has received backlash from students for placing the onus on victims of sexual assault and harassment to stay safe.

Director of End Rape on Campus Australia Anna Hush — who is also a postgraduate student and casual staff member at UNSW — posted a copy of the email on Twitter, saying it reads like "a rape myth bingo card".

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"The email sent by UNSW to students and staff is the latest in a long tradition of victim-blaming statements made by universities," Ms Hush told Fairfax Media.

"Telling people - young women in particular - to 'maintain awareness' and 'walk with confidence' shows a deep misunderstanding of the cause and nature of sexual violence, drawing on 'stranger danger' myths that do not align with the majority of cases in which sexual violence occurs.

"These messages put onus on potential victims to manage their behaviours, and thus suggests that they are responsible when they experience violence."

In 2016, the Australian Human Rights Commission's Respect. Now. Always survey found a larger percentage of surveyed UNSW students were sexually harassed, compared to the national average.

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According to the report, 5.5 percent of surveyed students were also sexually assaulted over 2015 and 2016.

Earlier that year, a video surfaced showing students from the all-boys residence Phillip Baxter College objectifying women and glorifying rape in song at a college event.

Since the report, UNSW has conducted face-to-face and online training for staff and students on preventing and responding to sexual misconduct, established an accredited First Responder network.

They have since also developed a portal for reporting sexual assault and harassment which has seen the number of reported cases jump from less than 10 to more than 90 in the last year, Deputy Vice-Chancellor of Inclusion and Diversity, Professor Eileen Baldry, told an audience at a recent event.

Ms Hush of End Rape on Campus said it was "extremely disappointing to see UNSW make comments like this, especially when they claim to support survivors and stand against sexual violence."

"Quite simply, they should know better."

Comment was sought from the University of NSW but had not been received at the time of publication.

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