Law & Justice
Law & Justice
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(2022) Hush, AnnaThesisFor decades, feminists at Australian universities have fought to publicise and politicise the issue of campus sexual violence. These efforts have recently come to fruition, with universities publicly acknowledging the problem and undertaking various institutional reforms. However, there has been little scholarly attention paid to political struggles over sexual violence within universities. This thesis critically examines the politics of feminist activism against sexual violence at Australian university campuses. It situates this activism against the backdrop of the neoliberalisation of Australian universities, to reveal how feminists have challenged – and at times, acted in complicity with – these transformations in the landscape of Australian higher education. This analysis is both historical, drawing on archival material relating to the history of campus feminist politics, and contemporary, using data from interviews with students currently engaged in organising against sexual violence. It explores the strategies and tactics adopted by feminist collectives, the constraints on feminist mobilisation in the neoliberal university, and the shortcomings of these movements. This thesis makes two original contributions to knowledge. Firstly, it extends existing analyses of university sexual violence and contributes to the growing body of scholarship on this topic. Research on campus sexual violence in Australia has so far focused on policy analysis and prevalence data. While this provides an important basis for evaluating the scope of the problem and potential remedies, it is largely disconnected from political struggles over institutional responses to sexual violence, a gap this thesis seeks to fill. I offer an analysis of the historical and contemporary struggles that have created the conditions for institutional change, as well as the complex ways in which the neoliberal university undermines and constrains oppositional movements. Secondly, this thesis makes a theoretical contribution to the field of New and Feminist Institutionalism. It critically intervenes in the institutionalist field, drawing greater attention to the roles of macro-social contexts and actors in the form of social movements in processes of institutional change and proposing a framework that foregrounds these aspects of institutional politics. The findings of this research reveal significant limitations in Australian universities’ responses to sexual violence, with their actions falling short of both student demands and expert recommendations. I argue that these actions have largely functioned to consolidate managerial power and mitigate reputational risk, in doing so narrowing the space of political contestation. My analysis further illuminates the specific institutional constraints that bear upon student feminist organisers within the neoliberal university. This analysis offers strategic insights into feminist engagement with institutions, suggesting that student movements must develop the capacity to disrupt processes of institutional reproduction and challenge the reformist approach adopted by universities. A transformative response to campus sexual violence, I argue, will require broader and better-organised coalitions of staff and students in order to collectively challenge and overcome these constraints.
Navigating safety and sexual harms in the context of dating and hookup platform use among adult Australians(2022) Cama, ElenaThesisDating and hookup platforms have become a popular tool for seeking romantic and sexual relationships. While there are numerous benefits to making connections online, popular media and academic literature have begun to document how these platforms are implicated in the perpetration of sexual harms. Drawing on feminist and queer understandings of sexual violence and technology, this thesis provides a mixed-methods examination of sexual harms experienced in the context of online dating. Data collection included an online survey (N=527) and in-depth interviews (N=25) with adult Australians who use dating and hookup platforms. Findings indicate that experiences of safety and sexual harms and their impacts in the context of dating and hookup platforms can be complex and varied, with many experiences diverging from legal and normative understandings of sexual violence. Participants documented a range of harms, including unwanted requests for sex, unsolicited sexual images, harassment based on gender, sexuality, and race, and unwanted sexual experiences, among others. These harms were gendered and intersectional, with women and sexuality diverse participants disproportionately affected. Minimisation and normalisation of sexual harms appeared to be common, due to the sexualised nature of these platforms and largely unquestioned acceptance of a ‘hookup’ culture in online dating. Cisnormative and heteronormative discourses of gender, sexuality, sexual behaviours, and sexual violence were both (re)produced and resisted by participants, illustrating how socio-cultural and sexual norms may become inscribed within digital platforms, and alternatively how these platforms may be co-opted to resist or reject these norms. Existing reporting and response options from platforms to these harms were viewed as inadequate, with participants calling for greater transparency and accountability in reporting processes and tangible consequences for perpetrators of harmful behaviours. This thesis concludes with recommendations as to how platforms, law enforcement, and communities could better prevent and respond to these harms.
Regulatory responses to addressing and preventing sexual assault and harassment in Australian university settings(2023) Henry, AllisonThesisOver the past decade, the Australian university sector and regulatory bodies have implemented a range of actions to improve the management and prevention of sexual assault and sexual harassment in Australian university settings. Despite these concerted efforts, little progress has been made in reducing campus sexual violence or in achieving institutional accountability. To date, research on campus sexual violence in Australia has focused on the experiences of students and staff (such as prevalence surveys and the impact of sexual violence on educational outcomes) or institutional responses (such as policy frameworks, reporting mechanisms and support services). This dissertation offers a new perspective by taking a system-wide structural approach to consider the entire regulatory community. Through the lens of theories of responsive and smart regulation, this thesis critically examines the regulatory initiatives adopted by various actors during the period 2011-2021. Addressing a gap in the literature, I offer an analysis of how regulatory theory does not adequately explain the vital role of civil society activists in creating momentum and initiating reform in this area. Drawing on legislative reviews, analysis of primary documents and 24 interviews with representatives drawn from across the regulatory community, the dissertation reveals how a lack of political will and the absence of even a latent threat of genuine enforceable institutional accountability – a ‘benign big gun’ in responsive regulatory theory – has undermined regulatory efforts across the whole sector. This dissertation also identifies the role that regulatory ritualism has played in stymying systemic change to respond to and prevent sexual violence in the Australian university sector, extending the existing literature by proposing two new applications of regulatory ritualism, language ritualism and announcement ritualism, and providing examples of where this has occurred. This dissertation argues that substantive progress in tackling sexual assault and sexual harassment in Australian university settings has stalled due to an over-reliance on the self-regulating university sector to lead the reform effort, the failure of enforced self-regulation models led by regulatory agencies, the indifference of governments and sector-wide regulatory ritualism which has seen institutions adopt tokenistic rather than substantive responses. To address these factors and improve institutional accountability, I argue that genuine systemic reform will require political leadership, more robust application of existing legislative and regulatory tools towards effective enforcement, and innovative exploration of other legal and regulatory approaches.