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Safer communities on campus

We're committed to keeping our students, staff and visitors safe

The University of Sydney fosters an inclusive campus environment where everyone in our community has the right to feel safe and supported, whether they are on campus, online or offshore.

Behaviour that is intimidating, abusive, disrespectful or threatening, including any instance of sexual harassment or assault, is absolutely unacceptable within our community or on our campuses.
Senior Deputy Vice-Chancellor Professor Stephen Garton AM

The values of respect and integrity are foundational to the University community. Our 2016-2020 Strategic Plan states that “all members of the University should be treated by one another as full and equal participants in the University community”. This is also reflected in the codes of conduct that set the standards for students and staff, stipulating tolerance, honesty and respect as the hallmarks of relationships throughout the University community

Towards a safer community for all

The University is wholly committed to strengthening a framework of safety and support that operates with compassion and confidentiality. We are constantly examining internal processes to make improvements that increase accessibility, transparency and consistency. Many improvements have been made, but there is more to be done.

A timeline of our projects and initiatives

The University is partnering with Universities Australia and other Australian universities again for the National Student Safety Survey. The national survey and Respect. Now. Always. campaign are part of an ongoing commitment from Australia’s universities to prevent gender-based violence and support those who experience it.

The 2021 survey (6 September to 3 October) will be conducted by the Social Research Centre on behalf of all Australian universities to help us understand what is happening on our campuses, and what we need to do to support all students. A random sample of 10,000 University of Sydney students will be invited to participate in the confidential survey.

Findings from the survey will be released in March 2022 and help shape our work to address and respond to sexual violence.

On 6 October 2020, the University released the Staff Sexual Misconduct Policy 2020 and the Staff Sexual Misconduct Response Procedures 2020.  This policy and procedure have been created after extensive consultation and is aimed at enhancing reporting and support services available for staff who have experienced sexual misconduct. In addition, the University launched two new online forms for staff and members of the public to make reports of sexual misconduct.

Building on the work of the two Student Liaison Officer roles which commenced in November 2017, the University established the Safer Communities Office in November 2019. The Safer Communities Office has specialist staff experienced in providing trauma-informed support to survivors of sexual misconduct. The Safer Communities Office currently has a Manager, Team Leader, Project Officer and four Student Liaison Officers.

In 2018, the University implemented the online Consent Matters module as a compulsory requirement for all new commencing students. Since this time, over 75,000 students have completed this module.

On 1 August 2018, the University released the Student Sexual Misconduct Policy 2018 and the Student Sexual Misconduct Response Procedures 2018. An online reporting form for students to make reports of sexual misconduct was also launched at the same time.

Changing the Course. On 1 August 2017, the Australian Human Rights Commission and Universities Australia released a report on the prevalence of sexual harassment and assault experienced by university students at a national level. The report provided a number of recommendations to address this issue which the University of Sydney has committed to implementing (see progress report below). The University continues to work with students and staff to work out what more can be done in this space, as part of our commitment to providing a safe, respectful and supportive environment for our university community.

Respect.Now.Always. Vice-Chancellor and Principal Dr Michael Spence said the problem of sexual harassment and assault was a deep and urgent national concern. The University of Sydney has partnered with Universities Australia and other Australian universities in a pioneering campaign to tackle the national issue of sexual harassment and assault experienced by students studying in Australia. The Respect. Now. Always. campaign calls upon Australia’s universities to take collective action to stamp out this issue across all university campuses.

The University’s Safer Communities Advisory Group has driven key initiatives for change and improvement representation from all student organisations, as well as representatives from staff and residential colleges. The Advisory Group reports directly to the Vice-Chancellor’s Student Consultative Committee and functions as a channel to consult with students on policy matters, programs and safety campaigns relating to student experience and welfare

Read the Creating a Safer Community for All report (pdf, 80KB).

The University issued a student survey to gauge experiences of sexual harassment and assault on campus, and to gather feedback on the University’s procedures for reporting and student support. Nearly 2,000 students voluntarily completed the survey, which was the first of its kind at an Australian university. The data was analysed independently and recommendations, which were endorsed by the Senior Executive Group in February 2016.

On-campus initiatives

The Safer Communities Office is a team of specialist staff who can provide trauma informed case management and support to student and staff survivors of sexual misconduct (including sexual assault and sexual harassment, both recent and historical). They provide one-on-one services tailored to each survivor’s needs to ensure they receive appropriate support.

The University of Sydney acknowledges the vulnerable position of survivors of sexual abuse and recognises that making a claim of historical sexual abuse involves disclosing highly personal information and has the potential to be a traumatic experience.

The University is committed to resolving claims of historical sexual abuse in a compassionate, transparent and fair manner, in an environment that promotes respect and dignity for claimants and which treats people accused of sexual abuse fairly. Please refer to the University’s Guiding Principles for Responding to Claims of Historical Sexual Abuse for further information.

The University is able to provide support to survivors of historical sexual abuse (connected with the University) through its Safer Communities Office. The Safer Communities Office is a team of specialist staff who provide trauma-informed support and assistance. This office can be contacted by telephone on +61 2 8627 6808 (Monday to Friday, 8.30am to 5.30pm AEST/AEDT), by email to or through the University’s online reporting forms.

On 1 August 2018, the University adopted a dedicated Student Sexual Misconduct Policy 2018which details how the University can best support survivors, protect confidentiality and eliminate unacceptable behaviour that does not reflect the values of this University. On 6 October 2020, the University adopted a dedicated Staff Sexual Misconduct Policy 2020.

The University has reviewed how we manage complaints (including reporting incidents of sexual violence) and investigations; and updated our student discipline rules to allow us to undertake investigations in a much more timely fashion, while preserving due process.

We’ve placed the needs of student survivors of sexual assault at the forefront of our revised processes, implementing a new complaints handling system that allows us to be far more transparent about the process, how long it might take, key milestones, and what to expect. Specially trained case managers prioritise complaints about an unwanted sexual experience, and contact the complainant within 24 hours.

The 1800 SYD HLP (1800 793 457) helpline allows students to contact a Student Liaison Officer, call security, book a counselling appointment or make a formal complaint. Staff can use the helpline to receive specialist advice to assist a student in distress.

Other improvements include the implementation of a dedicated online portal for disclosure, the establishment of a ‘call-back’ mechanism for students and removal of the requirement for students to ‘address the report’ at the local level.

On 6 October 2020, the University implemented a further two online reporting portals for disclosures by staff and members of the public.

The 1800 SYD HLP (1800 793 457) phone service was implemented in 2017 to improve visibility and accessibility of key support units across the University in the event of an incident. Students can be immediately connected to Protective Services, Safer Communities Office, complaints handling staff, support services, and local 24/7 rape and domestic violence services. It also enables staff members to connect with staff support services and specialist advice to assist student in distress.

In November 2017, The University of Sydney announced it will be accepting all of the recommendations contained in a report from business and social change leader Elizabeth Broderick AO on cultural renewal at its residential colleges.

The report was commissioned by the University in 2016 and five of its residential colleges – Sancta Sophia College, St Andrew’s College, St John’s College, Wesley College and Women’s College. Ms Broderick led a taskforce that over 18 months, involved extensive consultation with students, staff and alumni in all colleges. Discussion groups and interviews with 632 students and alumni and a total of 1001 students completed an online survey. The report made several ranging recommendations pertaining to student leadership structures, social events and policies, supply and demand of alcohol, safety and wellbeing, disclosure and reporting.

Read the full report (PDF 971kB)

In Semester 2 2017, the University adopted an online educational module by Epigeum called ‘Consent Matters’ as a learning tool for students to understand the nature of sexual consent. During the trial, all current students were encouraged to complete the module by choice. From 2018, the University made this online module compulsory for all commencing students and since then more than 75,000 students have successfully completed the online module.

Face to Face Consent Matters workshops

To complement the online module, in 2019, the Student Liaison Officers developed a face-to-face Consent Matters (CM) workshop for student leaders in Colleges and University owned accommodation. The interactive 1.5 hr session allow students to engage in an open discussion about consent in real life scenarios. The sessions also encourage a conversation around how to provide support to fellow students who may have experienced sexual assault and/or harassment. Nearly 500 students have been trained to date.

MATE Bystander awareness training for student leaders

Delivered by Griffith University, this 4 hour bystander training equips participants with skills and knowledge on how to safely intervene in a critical situation to help prevent gender-based violence. As at 2020, over 150 student leaders from University owned accommodation, colleges, clubs and societies have been trained to date.

First responder training (Responding with Compassion) for staff and student leaders

A training program was introduced in 2017 for key staff members who may be a first or early responder within the University such as Protective Services, Student Affairs Unit and Residential Assistants in University-owned accommodation. The Responding with Compassion training is delivered by Rape and Domestic Violence Services Australia and includes how to respond appropriately and compassionately to a disclosure of sexual assault. Nearly 400 staff members and student leaders have completed this training since its implementation.

Students commencing at the University are introduced to the Student Charter as part of their Orientation programs, to ensure they are aware and understand their obligations and responsibilities when studying here. Comprehensive discussions of acceptable behaviours and what it means to study in an inclusive and respectful environment form part of a student’s transition into University life. All new students are also informed of emergency procedures, where to access support and where to go to complete important educational modules, including Consent MattersCultural Competence and Academic Honesty.

Amendments to the University website were made to improve access to important resources for incident reporting and accessing support. The revised websites make it easier to find and use resources such as a dedicated online portal for disclosures of sexual assault and harassment, an online complaints portal, support services for survivors, emergency information and procedures, sexual health and consent information as well as external links to assistance providers such as Rape and Domestic Violence Services Australia and 1800 RESPECT.

Specific resources have been produced to help all staff members know what to do in particular situations and how to appropriately assist students in distress. A dedicated section on the staff intranet contains key information, an in-depth guide, instructional video and links to internal and external support services.

Support for staff experiencing distress is widely available through the Employee Assistance Program, which provides confidential counselling services and wellbeing resources for all staff and can be accessed by calling 1800 SYD HLP (793 457).