As recent horrific incidents of domestic and intimate partner violence attest, no communities can be complacent about their role in supporting and protecting individuals who have experienced violence.  University service areas, particularly during the COVID-19 pandemic, are reminded daily of the escalating need for appropriate services for this ongoing national emergency.

Beyond physical attacks, coercive control that involves students is also referred to in the US as ‘educational sabotage’. This encompasses behaviours that impact opportunities to complete study, gain a qualification and achieve independence. Some of these behaviours share commonality with other indicia identified in the intimate partner violence literature (financial sabotage, physical violence, stalking), however other tactics are uniquely related to education (eg: destroying assessment, diminishing educational goals) or sabotaging the capacity to go to university, such as transport or childcare arrangements. As noted in Australia’s National Research Agenda to Reduce Violence Against Women and their Children: ANRA 2020-2022, we need to understand more about how these issues manifest.

Universities provide on-campus counselling services, after-hours crisis lines and security services, including escorts across campus locations. Several operate safer community teams which enable a holistic crisis response. University support services have comprehensive links to community provision but, in most jurisdictions, services for domestic violence, particularly for emergency accommodation, are at capacity. Student accommodation services provide options for emergency accommodation, but often such provision is not suitable for students with children. Some universities provide emergency financial grants as most students who have experienced violence have few financial resources and are often not eligible for other forms of financial assistance. Most universities have “exceptional circumstances” provisions for academic study relief. Programmes that promote respectful relationships are also part and parcel of a university environment. Explicit policies and clear reporting pathways are essential, alongside disaggregated data collection, to mitigate the regular under-reporting of domestic violence’s impact on our student populations.

But more needs to be done. Visible executive leadership is critical, beyond seeking endorsements from recognition agencies. As institutional leaders we must proactively support assertive actions across all domains of university life. Our Watch’s partnership with Universities Australia provides a comprehensive framework to guide addressing gendered drivers of violence, specifically within the context of higher education. Educating for equality and the prevention of violence in accord with the framework should be a key priority for the higher education sector.

Our own ECU data indicate that this is a growing problem amongst the student community. Reactive, case-by-case responses prevent the sector from taking a leadership role in enabling critical shifts in the cultural and social norms that would otherwise underpin systemic change in response to this always present, but sometimes invisible, crisis.

The month of May is Domestic and Family Violence Prevention Month

Angela Hill, DVC Education, Edith Cowan University @AngelaHTSV

Braden Hill, PVC Equity and Indigenous, Edith Cowan University @BradenRHill

Fiona Navin, Director Access and Equity, Edith Cowan University

Michelle Rogers, Director Student Life, Edith Cowan University

Braden Hill is a panellist at the Needed Now Conference on 25 May 2021, 11:30 pm – 12:30 pm AEST, talking about Learning Rights: Why equity is not an optional extra. Register here


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