And an excerpt
Damning new research has exposed the prevalence of sexual assault and harassment at Australia’s universities.
WA university students were among the 30,000 surveyed nation-wide by the Australian Human Rights Commission last year for the Change The Course report, the findings of which were declared “concerning”.
Half of all students said they were sexually harassed on at least one occasion in 2016, and one in five experienced it in a university setting.
Seven per cent of students overall experienced a sexual assault while 1.6 per cent of these took place at a uni itself in 2015 or 2016.
Hundreds of deeply personal submissions were also received and many are included in the report, such as the story of a male student exposing his genitalia to a female in the middle of a lecture.
The Vice-Chancellors of WA’s five universities issued a joint statement today saying they stood together to make campuses safer for students and the community.
Eeva Leinonen, Vice-Chancellor at Murdoch University, said 456 Murdoch students took part in the survey, and confirmed that the reported incidence of sexual assault at the university was much lower than the national average.
UWA Vice-Chancellor Dawn Freshwater said the university had recently introduced a new system at the campus tavern known as “Ask for Angela”, where students were encouraged to ask for “Angela” if they were feeling unsafe or pressured.
UWA had also initiated a review of its sexual harassment policies and procedures earlier this year.
Sex discrimination commissioner Kate Jenkins spoke of women being groped by men during class, a rape that took place after a college party and a female student who was repeatedly sexually harassed by a lecturer during their commute home on public transport.
“A woman told us she was raped by a senior student leader who was running (an orientation week camp),” Ms Jenkins said at the report’s launch.
“She later heard that he had previously raped another student at one of these camps and no action was a result.”
Sex assaults were likely to occur at university or residential college social events, within the college setting or on public transport, she said.
“We also heard about hazing and other college traditions … these have been widely documented in the media,” Ms Jenkins said.
“The fact these behaviours continue to exist and that they involve sexual assault and harassment is deeply concerning.”
There was a perception among students that college staff were aware of such conduct but “did nothing to prevent it”.
The vast majority of victims took no formal action, saying they didn’t know where to go for help or weren’t sure how serious the incident was.
Perhaps adding to the reluctance to report assaults or harassment was the finding that 45 per cent of victims knew the perpetrator.
Universities Australia calls for ‘zero tolerance’ on sexual assault
“It’s confronting to learn that sexual assault and sexual harassment is an all-too-common part of (university) life,” Ms Jenkins said.
Professor Margaret Gardner of Universities Australia, which commissioned the report, announced an initial 10-point plan to tackle the problem.
“We send a strong and clear message today that these behaviours are not acceptable. Not on our campuses — and not in Australia society,” Professor Gardner said.
They include the development of a “respectful relationships” program, more specialist training for counsellors to support victims, a 24-hour support line and broader first responder training for uni staff.
“The 10 major initiatives we announce today signal our resolve to ensure our students study and live in a safe and respectful culture, and to ensure that students who experience and report unacceptable behaviour receive the right response of compassion, care and support,” Professor Gardner said.
In addition to these national initiatives, universities across Australia will respond to the recommendations by taking specific local action to build on initiatives already in place, she said.
The Change The Course report — findings
* 51 per cent of university students sexually harassed at least once in 2016.
* One in four students was harassed in a university setting (on campus, while travelling to university, at a university-endorsed social event or in university employment).
* One in three harassment incidents happened on university grounds or in classrooms.
* 6.9 per cent were sexually assaulted (about one in 15).
* 1.6 per cent of students were assaulted in a university setting (almost one in four of the total who were sexually assaulted).
* One in five of these assaults happened at university or residence social events.
* Women almost twice as likely as men to be harassed, and more than three times as likely to be assaulted.
* Men overwhelmingly reported as the perpetrators.
* 51 per cent of those who reported assault or harassment knew the perpetrator – most likely to be a fellow student.
* 94 four per cent of those harassed and 87 per cent of those assaulted at university did not make a formal complaint or report.
* Six in 10 students said they didn’t know how to formally report or complain about incidents.