Aussie uni introduces viral anti-sexual harassment campaign to their campus bar

May 08, 2017
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Last October, a small-town campaign poster went viral after it was snapped and shared on Twitter. Originating in England’s Lincolnshire county council, the posters were hung up in pubs and bars, posing the following questions:

“Are you on a date that isn’t working out? Do you feel like you’re not in a safe situation? Is your Tinder or POF date not who they said they were on their profile? Does it all feel a bit weird?”

If any of the following things were happening to bar-dwellers, they could “Ask for Angela” at the bar so the staff could help get them out of the situation discretely, without fear to their personal safety.

Introducing the campaign to UWA

Making its way around the world in the months to follow, this campaign has found its way to the University of Western Australia’s Student Guild AKA The Tav. Guild women’s officer Hannah Matthews spoke to PerthNow about implementing this campaign into the uni environment:

“Sexual harassment is something that happens all over the world, particularly when alcohol is involved and university campuses are no exception,” she said.

“I believe this is a way of supporting our students, letting them know that if someone is making them feel uncomfortable they don’t have to put up with it. We will support them and actively try to help them out of the situation.”

The presence of sexual assault across Australin unis

While this campaign has made it way sparsely to college bars in the US and some pubs in Australia, this is arguably the first Australian university to introduce the program, which comes as a surprise following recent alarming reports detailing the prevalence of sexual harassment happening to uni students.

The 2016 report by the University of Sydney, Creating A Safer Community for All, found that 24.7 per cent of the 1926 student participants had experienced “some form of unacceptable behaviour, unwanted sexual harassment or assault over the time they were enrolled at the university”, noting that the majority of these cases occurred off campus.

On a broader group of participants, the 2016 National Union of Students Talk About It report found 27 per cent of 1366 survey participants experienced sexual assault during their time at uni. Last year’s Freedom of Information investigation by Channel 7’s Sunday Night also revealed that 575 complaints of sexual assault were made to universities, with 145 complaints related to instances of rape. From these complaints, only six expulsions were made by universities.

Is "Ask for Angela" the solution?

Despite the absence of any solid overarching data, these snippets of data show there is a real issue. So is “Ask for Angela” the solution for Australian unis? UWA student Danica Lamb believes it’s not necessarily the step universities should be taking.

“I've been a UWA student for five years and have been a very active participant in campus culture – both as an event organiser and attendee – for those five years. I have also experienced issues of sexual harassment in my capacity as a warden at a university res college.

“I believe that the Women's Department at UWA has always had great initiatives and programs in place for outreach, support and awareness of issues facing women during their time at uni. However, I would say that the 'Angela' initiative maybe takes things a bit far and invites an assumption by the broader community that this type of program has been generated by necessity, rather than good intentions.

Danica believes a different approach should be taken towards the issue when, as studies show, the sexual harassment is more likely to occur off campus.

“The culture of the UWA tavern is very much an open, 'everyone knows everyone' environment where students, staff and security are constantly buzzing about and no patron is left unseen or ignored. It is incomparable to a dark, loud and crowded bar for example, where programs such as this have been successfully employed and are highly successful in providing an escape route.

“I would urge the Women's Department to focus on issues of healthy and safe communication in relationships, for example, that have a tangible influence on students rather than taking an initiative such as the Angela campaign to the media before its usefulness can be determined.”

While the campaign may bring about awareness for this no-tolerance approach to sexual harassment, it's just the tip of the iceberg of what needs to be done. Having universities overhaul their sexual assault policies is the first necessary step before further action on their part to help prevent sexual assault happening on and off campus.

Lauren Piggott