Sydney Uni Launches 'Unethical And Irresponsible' Sexual Assault Portal

The portal has been called nothing more than "reputational goal scoring".

A new online portal for reporting sexual harassment and assault at the University of Sydney has launched amid criticism from its own student body.

The portal is only open to current students who have a 10-minute time limit on making a report, a 500 word limit in describing the events, no option to save a copy of the report for the student making it, and no functionality in editing the report once made.

The portal launched on Wednesday to coincide with the Australian Human Rights Commission's report on how Australia's educational institutions were responding to concerns of widespread cultures raised a year ago.

The Change The Course report, released in 2017, found that one in five students reported sexual harassment.

Source: AHRC.

The portal was intended to be part of the university's wider response, but the Student Representative Council has criticised it as "unethical and irresponsible", pointing out the major flaws that would actively detract from victims reporting assault.

Most worryingly, there are major concerns about privacy, according to the SRC, with no clarity around who can access the report and concerns that students could be identified.

President of the SRC Imogen Grant told ten daily it appeared to "reputational point scoring" by the university as the 12-month deadline approached, rather than a real effort to curb campus sexual harassment and assault.

"Don't get me wrong, I think the portal is a great idea. It has my full support," she said. "But this looks like something done cheap, fast and without the full consultation of staff, students and experts."

She told ten daily the SRC was informed about a month ago of plans to launch the portal, and raised concerns immediately.

"There is a serious danger in rushing to an artificial deadline less than three weeks away and thereby undermining the efficacy of the project," she wrote in an email, dated July 13 and addressed to the university president and a number of faculty members.

"We are concerned you are prioritising the press announcement and cheap reputational wins above doing the job properly."

The email, which has been seen by ten daily, repeatedly brings into focus the experience of a survivor of sexual assault making a report via the portal.

She mentioned the 10-minute time limit and how it doesn't allow for a survivor to manage the "re-traumatising" experience of reporting their assault -- or indeed, "does not even provide a survivor with enough time to go to the bathroom or make a cup of tea."

There are concerns raised around the need to enter a Unikey, which not only makes true anonymity impossible but limits who can make a report.

"What if a Year 12 student was raped at a college formal? Moreover, End Rape on Campus has supported an individual who was allegedly gang raped by USyd students, but who is herself not a USyd student. How would this person make a report?" reads the email.

"Does this mean if the survivor is excluded from the university they cannot report? What if the student has graduated or dropped out because of the impacts of trauma?"

Grant told ten daily that the university had promised to make these concerns their top priority in three months time, but she holds no hope that changes would be made.

The University of Sydney has been approached for comment on these concerns.

Concerns around the portal were not the only ones made on Wednesday.

End Rape on Campus expressed deep concerns that seven major universities -- the University of Canberra, Charles Darwin University, the University of Notre Dame, the University of South Australia, Western Sydney University, Bond University and the University of New England -- were still directing students to a 1800 hotline for sexual assault counselling that was de-funded in November last year.

"It's deeply irresponsible of universities to promote a hotline that they abolished all funding for eight months ago," said Anna Hush, director of EROC Australia.

"If universities are genuinely concerned about students' access to trauma counselling, they should increase funding to these services on their own campuses, rather than overburdening already stretched community services."

In releasing its 12-month update, the AHRC said the work done by all 39 universities was encouraging, but not enough.

"We must not be complacent though. We must continue to monitor and evaluate progress if we are to make a difference," said Sex Discrimination Commissioner Kate Jenkins.

“It is vital that universities maintain momentum for this work and that they are transparent about their progress.

“As we have seen over the last year, sexual assault and sexual harassment continue to occur at unacceptable rates not only within universities, but across our society at large."