Fuck man, why is it so hard to get support after experiencing gendered violence? 

Edited by Dominique Lakis and Anh Noel

Content warning: Sexual Assault

What has happened to me is sadly not a unique incident, and I feel that this university does not yet have the resources or support needed to adequately support students who have experienced gendered violence. When I experienced sexual assault on campus, I was not fully aware of what had happened to me, as though I had disassociated from the entire situation. I could remember it, but it was as if it had happened to a different person. It felt isolating and painful. The sad news is I think I wouldn’t have been as affected in the long-term if I was able to access support for my mental health and safety sooner.  

I knew what had happened felt wrong and that this person had hurt me in some way, but it was only when a friend pointed out to me that I was sexually assaulted did the gravity of the situation weigh on me. It was as if there was this fog over me where I didn’t really absorb the event — I just felt numb. Once reality settled in, I immediately contacted the accused and told them to never contact me again because what they had done was unforgivable. My emotions were all over the place and because I was living out of home, the only people who I really saw were my friends who I had not known for very long. I had finally built up the courage to go to my mum a few weeks after the incident and she took me to the police.   

Reporting to the police   

The entire situation was daunting but the police at the Randwick station were actually quite nice. I remember it took forever to get a detective to see me and the waiting just added to my anxiety and stress about the whole thing. I told my statement to two people, the victims of assault officer and her supervisor. Even though both of them were really friendly and laid out my options, I just didn’t want to pursue it any further because at the time I was exhausted. All I wanted was to focus on myself and avoid my attacker on campus.    

However, I soon realised how difficult this would be because the perpetrator started to leave me gifts at work. They escalated from sunglasses, to a manipulative letter begging for forgiveness, to a vibrator. I didn’t know what to do and didn’t know who to turn to. I spiraled into a deep depression and locked myself into my college room, hiding from the outside world. No locked door was going to stop the suicidal thoughts from creeping in or the intense self-hatred. Eventually I built up the courage to reach out to my mum again. She took me back to the same police station and made an additional report to them. This time I got an Appended Violence Order (AVO) to try and keep my attacker away. Even though I had the AVO it took me a while to actually do anything with it. You have to understand that a part of me was robbed and even though I ached to have my life back and achieve a sense of normalcy within myself, I was afraid to step out of my room. Every movement I made on campus put me at risk of being face to face with my attacker. Moving home wasn’t an option because there was physically no room for me, but in hindsight, maybe I would’ve been best off sleeping on my parents’ couch.   

Reporting to college    

My grades had suffered after the assault, so I reached out to the dean of the college I was staying at about a month after. I booked a session with her because she was concerned with my academic standing. During the session, I told her what had happened and that it had happened in the college rooms. What I wanted from her at the time was guidance on how I could get support from them and the university but I also needed her support. At the time, my attacker was emailing me and sending messages through university forums. While she was empathetic towards my situation, the only support offered to me was the UNSW mental health page and a vague suggestion to talk to security. Although she offered to move my room, she did not offer to help me with those processes. I never heard from her again and once again I was left in this depressive limbo for months after reporting to the police, college and UNSW.    

Reporting to Security and UNSW gender violence portal   

I reported the assault to UNSW’s gender violence portal before I spoke to college. I included the reference to the police report, the report number and I chose not to remain anonymous but gave them ways to contact me. To this date, nothing has been communicated to me about the progress of that report or if the administration has taken any disciplinary steps against the accused. The portal did advise me to go to UNSW Security and inform them on what had happened but it was daunting to go alone. I wanted to have support throughout this process but there just seemed to be no one there. When I walked into the Securities office, I made my report to them and provided the police report number. I had no idea what I needed to ask or even how they could help but all I wanted was for them to ensure that I never saw my attacker again. I know I didn’t ask the right questions but my nerves were at their wits end and their only response was ‘we will see what we can do’. They did say they would be in touch with updates on their progress but after a month there was truly nothing. I was the one that had to reach out. I was the one following up with them only to never get a response to my emails. Exhausting does not begin to cover that experience because it felt like the systems meant to help me were just exacerbating the trauma. At this point I had jumped through a lot of hoops with no real outcome and the futility of it all really sunk in.  

What happened to me was only passed on to Conduct and Integrity once I reported the situation through the Queer Collective this year. I once again had to provide information on the police report and the previous report made to the gender violence portal. One of the queer officers has been incredibly helpful since I reached out and has been helping me stay up to date with what progress has been made.  

Finally, I heard from UNSW conduct and integrity. It was only then they offered support on how to best keep myself safe. I was given contacts to Arc Legal & Advocacy, and advice on how to speak with security about my situation. This has been incredibly helpful but it very sad that I only got access to this after leaping through multiple hoops over and over again for over a year.  

Reaching out to UNSW well-being   

I had one appointment with a counselor and they were focusing on the mental health side of things. At this point my sole focus was figuring out a way I could make university a safe space for me again. At this time, I had already organized to see an external psychologist and the counselor advised me to stay with them because they knew me best. After that meeting I got the impression that they didn’t want to see me. I could have misunderstood but the communication was unclear and incredibly confusing from them.  

Regaining control of myself  

We are now in 2023 and as the university year was just starting up, I was in this weird ‘it gets worse before it gets better’ phase. I have inadvertently seen my attacker both on and off campus. Once was when I was with friends in Chatswood, and the other time when they approached me in the Law library. Both times they tried to come and talk to me but before they got a word in, I left. After this some friends had informed me that my attacker had been involved in another incident and that made me feel incredibly low. I had done everything right; made two reports to the police, an AVO, reported to security, reported to the university, reached out to wellbeing and nothing had been done about it.  

I feel a lot more optimistic about my mental wellbeing and my safety than I did at the time immediately following the assault. Especially since making connections with people within the university who are helpful and who are guiding me through processes that should have been easily available last year. They are actually making sure I am safe. It is important to remember you are not alone. One of the ways I noted that I was getting better was when I felt a lot more connected to people. I want to emphasise that because my friends were there for me and made sure that I was participating in life again (dinners and social events) that it really encouraged me to want to get better. That desire to ace therapy (lol)!   

If someone is going through what I am going through I hope that they don’t feel alone and that they will be more compassionate to themselves than I was when the assault happened. Please reach out to friends or family because they are such an integral part of healing. It really fucking sucks that it seems impossible to easily access support from the Uni, and hopefully this will change in the future. What kind of learning space would this be if students aren’t getting supported after experiencing violence on campus grounds?! No matter what you have to keep working but I feel like it shouldn’t have been as difficult as it was for me. I believe there should have been better processes in place. I shouldn’t have to chase up paperwork constantly because it is not conducive or relevant to the healing process. It may not be my place to tell people how to do their job but people should not have to follow up safety and support services to make sure they are getting what they need because it exacerbates the trauma and defers help. These areas need to change and become a unified process that communicate among each other, or else other students will be left feeling as hopeless and alone as I once was.  

Tharunka reached out to UNSW Security regarding the matters referenced in this article. In
response, we received this statement from UNSW Media:

In response to your inquiry to UNSW Security, the safety and wellbeing of UNSW students
and staff are always paramount and gendered violence, including sexual misconduct has
no place at the University. We are committed to providing a rewarding and safe learning,
research and teaching environment.

UNSW encourages reporting of all forms of gendered violence, current and historical, so
that we can offer active support. Reports can be made anonymously and are managed
consistent with a trauma informed approach.

The University takes all reports of gendered violence seriously and has comprehensive
processes to receive and respond to any allegations made involving UNSW students, staff
and members of the public, occurring on campus, off campus and on-line.
Students, staff and members of the public can report incidents on our Gendered Violence
Portal (Portal)
, to UNSW Security, by making a student or staff complaint, by contacting
University support services, to one of five First Responders, or to their University or affiliated
accommodation provider.

All reports to the Portal, where contact details are provided, receive a trauma-informed,
person-centred response within 48 hours with information, appropriate support and referral
to on- and off-campus services. UNSW has a process in place to minimise the number of
times a report is required to disclose their experience and the response is informed by the
report’s wishes.

Best regards

UNSW Media

Tharunka also reached out to the writer’s college, whose current dean was not in the role at
the time of their assault. They thus declined to comment on those grounds as well as lacking
the approval of the writer. After stating this, they proceeded to outline UNSW’s incident
reporting processes on the Gendered Violence Portal and UNSW Security.

Gendered violence support services: