Criminologist driving sexual violence reform named Monash Uni’s new VC

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A criminologist who helped shape the federal government’s proposed sexual violence reforms for universities will lead Monash University as its next vice chancellor.

Professor Sharon Pickering is provost at the university, having risen through the ranks from a lecturer, and has worked with governments worldwide to help combat sex trafficking and family violence, conducting fieldwork in Thai refugee camps and on the streets of Belfast.

Criminologist and Monash University provost Sharon Pickering will be the uni’s next vice chancellor.

Pickering succeeds Professor Margaret Gardner, who left Monash this year to become the 30th governor of Victoria.

While some universities have been pushing back against regulation to govern how they respond to sexual violence, Pickering was part of federal Education Minister Jason Clare’s stakeholders’ group that designed the overhaul.

The proposed reforms include a new student ombudsman to investigate complaints and potential sanctions on universities that mishandle cases, after a damning Senate inquiry found universities couldn’t be trusted to handle cases without strong intervention.

When the plans were released last month, Pickering was one of the few university voices championing them.

“This is a game-changer and we should take this opportunity as a sector,” she said.

As Monash announced her appointment on Wednesday, Pickering told this masthead she was excited about the role – and deeply committed to those reforms.

When she joined the university in 2003, it was the students she encountered first.

“I gave my first lecture at 9am that day,” she said. “I walked straight from the car park, I didn’t even go to my office.”

And she still sees the students as the beating heart of the university.

“They fuel the research engine for our economy, they enable us to do the big, grand things, to think of the ideas the world needs. So student experience needs to be front and centre in everything.”

Advocates who have spent the past decade pushing for change on sexual violence, such as Sharna Bremner of End Rape on Campus Australia, say Pickering has been a strong voice working to improve things for sexual assault survivors.

Pickering, who is also an expert on asylum seeker policy, recalled watching a meeting of female leaders at a Thai refugee camp more than a decade ago. The women were so distressed at the prospect of younger girls being trafficked for the sex trade that they were considering stopping them leaving the camp.

“And that’d mean they’d miss out on school, on work opportunities,” Pickering said. “It just showed me how important it is to have women and survivors’ agency at the heart of solutions.”

Monash chancellor Simon McKeon said Pickering stood out during an “exhaustive” global search because of her integrity and energy.

“Monash’s next phase is in the fiercely capable hands of someone who has the DNA of Monash running through their veins and the best interests of our community at heart,” he said

McKeon thanked acting vice chancellor Professor Susan Elliott for taking the role since Gardner’s departure.

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