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March 18, 2019 | by  | in Homepage News Splash |
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University to launch sexual harassment policy

Victoria University is due to release a stand-alone sexual harassment policy for staff and student consultation this week.

VUW’s Student Code of Conduct currently defines misconduct as “conduct that is detrimental to the safety or well-being of other people, the effective functioning of the University or to the reputation of the University.”

There is no direct mention of sexual harm. It is addressed once in the Staff Conduct Policy.

Victoria University Provost Wendy Larner said that the need for a stand-alone policy had been underscored by cultural shifts, including similar policy developments across Australia and the #metoo movement. The new policy is part of a broader programme to promote conversation and action around sexual harm.

While the university has existing processes to deal with staff and student reports of sexual harassment, this new dedicated policy will provide an entrenched framework for doing so.

A key feature of the new policy is its distinction between a disclosure of sexual harassment and a formal complaint. A student or staff member may make a disclosure anonymously if they want to record the incident, without the university launching an investigation. Under the current system, a student must make a formal complaint, which cannot be done anonymously.

Staff and student forums on the new policy will be held later in the trimester. Larner hopes that students will actively engage with the consultation process—“It helps us with the wider work of having a culture in our university that says this is never okay.”

VUWSA has been consulted in the policymaking process, along with the Postgraduate Students’ Association, the Tertiary Education Union, the Sexual Abuse Prevention Network, and the university’s own experts in areas such as law and criminology.

“Having a stand-alone policy is in line with advice from the State Services Commission which indicates that research shows sexual harassment is less likely to occur in organisations with a policy,” said VUWSA advocate Erica Schouten.

VUWSA Welfare Vice-President Rhianna Morar emphasised the importance of accessibility when dealing with long and technical policy documents.

“VUWSA has recommended that it work in partnership with the University to produce a readable, non-intensive version of the policy and procedures that can easily be found online and distributed throughout the university,” she told Salient.

Otago, Canterbury, Massey, Waikato and Auckland universities all mention sexual harm in behaviour, harassment and bullying policies. However, the new policy would put VUW on par with Lincoln University, currently one of the few (if not the only) New Zealand university with a stand-alone sexual harm policy.

Student forums will be held on Wednesday, 8 May between 11 a.m.–12 p.m. in GBLT2, and on Thursday, 9 May from 2.30 p.m–3.30 p.m. in SUMT228, and on Thursday, 9 May from 10 a.m.–11 a.m. at  Te Aro in VSLT1.

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