University of Melbourne student Mia Boonen slams university’s response to sexual assault rates

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When a freshman at the University of Melbourne approached her professors with a serious complaint, she was shocked by their response.

A student at the University of Melbourne’s Victorian College of the Arts (VCA) has hit back at the university’s response to the results of a survey that documented rates of sexual assault and harassment at higher education institutions Australians.

Earlier this month, Mia Boonen, 21, launched a campaign with classmates Sinead Fernandes, 21, and Antoinette Tracey, 21, which saw them go public with their allegations of sexual assault, harassment sexual and racial abuse.

News.com.au understands that their claims are in addition to multiple other allegations of sexual assault, assault, sexual harassment and racial abuse that have been made against the same student.

Ms Boonen alleges she suffered a ‘continuous pattern of harassment’ which began during her freshman year of college, in 2019.

“The most important event happened in class during the second semester of my freshman year. We were doing a movement exercise and he grabbed my chest a few times,” she told news.com.au

“When I later came to terms with the fact that I had been raped in a more serious way than I had originally imagined, he cornered me outside the college locker room and told me that I wasn’t supposed to make a big deal out of him and he tried to bully me into not reporting.

Ms Boonen then went to “teacher after teacher in the hope that one would listen”, but she was discouraged from making a formal report.

“[They said] it would be too hard, too tiring and then we had to miss class – and at VCA they are very aggressive in always showing up no matter what is happening in your world.

It would be a decision she would continue to “regret.”

“I didn’t make an official report because I felt like I couldn’t,” she said.

“I really regret it because over the next two years he continued to harass me and several other people as I found out later,” she alleged.

Ms. Boonen’s allegations are similar to those of Ms. Tracey and Ms. Fernandes.

VCA students claimed that when they attempted to report the alleged perpetrator’s behavior, a VCA teacher told them to “consider acts of sexual and racial violence as compliments”.

In a statement shared in early March, Ms Tracey said they were told ‘we will never be successful in the industry if we continue to speak out against injustices’.

Ms Fernandes – who claimed to have been the victim of sexual, physical and racially inappropriate behavior – said the teacher told her ‘racial harassment ‘didn’t matter’ and ‘race was ‘out’ about “”.

Following their allegations, the students staged a class walkout after the alleged student was allowed to return to campus after six months. Since then, Ms. Boonen has also taken time off from her studies.

Ms Boonen, Ms Fernandes and Ms Tracey also organized an open letter to the University of Melbourne calling on them to “make repairs and take immediate action for the continued safety of current and future students”. To date, the letter has received more than 1,500 signatories.

‘I don’t want to be on the same campus,’ Ms Boonen said

“I don’t feel particularly safe approaching him or near a faculty that protects him.”

It comes from the results of the National Student Safety Survey which collated results from 39 Australian universities and found that one in 20 students had been sexually assaulted since starting university and one in six had been sexually harassed since starting college.

The University of Melbourne ranked 11th, with 5.5% of students saying they had been sexually assaulted since starting college. The survey found that Bond University in Queensland reported the highest rates of sexual assault since starting the university (13.2%), followed by the Australian National University in Canberra (12 .3%) and James Cook University in Brisbane (9.5%).

In a statement from the University of Melbourne on Wednesday, Vice-Chancellor Professor Duncan Maskell said the findings were “confronting” and hoped it would “motivate the change needed” to make their campuses safer.

Professor Nicola Phillips, rector of the University of Melbourne, also said that “as a university we should be deeply disappointed”.

“This is a pressing issue for all who study and work at the University of Melbourne and clearly we still have a lot to do,” she said.

However, Ms Boonen said the response to the survey was “hugely surprising” but disappointing.

“For me to read this investigation and especially to see the response from the University of Melbourne, as if it were new information, was unnerving.

“My brain goes to things like scary and upsetting, but it was way more energetic than that.”

In a statement to news.com.au, a spokesperson for the University of Melbourne acknowledged that they had “much more to do to bring about the profound culture change that is needed when it comes to sexual misconduct”.

“We know we haven’t always been successful in the past, so we’re taking proactive steps to drive the culture change required,” they said.

Regarding Ms Boonen’s claims, they said the investigation into the matter was complete after being formally notified of the allegations in 2021.

“We are unable to comment on the specifics of this matter, but the University has taken appropriate steps to address the issues raised, consistent with our policy parameters and values,” they said.

Ms Boonen, however, said the university’s response had been “all words and no action”. She claims the university was made aware of several counts of assault and harassment and said their approach had been “aggressor-centric”.

“It’s their responsibility to make sure teachers have the proper training so they can see a disclosure and respond appropriately,” she said.

“Women are having these conversations in the locker room, after class and all over the VCA because it is our responsibility to protect each other.

“Even if you don’t have any particular experience of being harassed or assaulted, I don’t know a single woman who hasn’t had to change her behavior because of the behavior of dangerous men.”

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