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Universities Australia tells members to act on sexual assault on campus

In August 2017, The Australian Human Rights Commission released a report which surveyed students from 39 Australian universities on sexual assault.

Of the 39,000 respondents, 51% had experienced sexual harassment in 2016. However, the number has been contested by students and women’s groups who said that many events go unreported as universities lack reliable reporting procedures. Abby Stapleton, the women’s officer for the National Union of Students, stated that the lack of support services had “deterred so many people from speaking out” and students “simply don’t know where to seek help”.

On July 20, Universities Australia released a new protocol meant to help universities respond to sexual harassment and assault on campus. The guidelines acknowledged that most students who had experienced such events did not “formally report their experience to their university or police” and the UA called the matter a “significant information gap” in understanding sexual harassment and assault on campus.

The UA also stated that: “A person who receives a disclosure should explain to the student that they will provide de-identified information to the university to help it better understand what is happening in its community.”

Two other reports have followed the HRC’s, spreading even more awareness. A study from University of Sydney highlighted the “huge drinking culture” and its correlation with sexual harassment and assault among students. Another report made by End Rape, an action group, contained information regarding the existent hazing and misogyny in residential colleges.

While the UA’s guidelines do not oblige universities to adopt measures against sexual assault and harassment, the UA’s chief executive, Catriona Jackson declared that Vice-Chancellors are starting to take action in response to the report.

Sexual assault and harassment is a widespread phenomenon among universities globally including the UK.

In March 2018, Revolt Sexual Assault, a UK based charity, published the results of their survey on student sexual assault. Of the 4,500 respondents, 62% had experienced sexual violence. The number rises to more than 70% amongst female respondents and students with a disability.

Several UK universities have admitted that sexual assault is an alarming issue. One of the universities which commented after the publishing of the results is the University of Bristol which stated their “zero-tolerance approach to sexual harassment or violence of any form”. However, sexual assaults often remain unreported and an institutional reform has been called out.


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