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Byron Shire
February 28, 2021

A ‘disturbing story’- universities report

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Sex Discrimination Commissioner Kate Jenkins.
Sex Discrimination Commissioner Kate Jenkins.

Just over half of university students have been sexually harassed and seven per cent sexually assaulted on at least one occasion.

These events took place in their everyday lives, according to a new report published by the Australian Human Rights Commission.

The report, based on a national survey of more than 30,000 students attending 39 institutions, also looked specifically at university situations.

It found 26 per cent of students were sexually harassed in a university setting in 2016 and 1.6 per cent reported being sexually assaulted.

The term university setting includes events that happened on campus, while travelling to or from university, at off-campus events organised by or endorsed by the university and during university employment.

Women experienced sexual assault and harassment at disproportionately higher rates than men, the report found.

And men were overwhelmingly the perpetrators of both sexual assault and sexual harassment cases reported by students to the commission.

“A significant proportion of students who were sexually assaulted or sexually harassed knew the perpetrator, who was most likely to be a fellow student from their university,” the report said.

“It is clear from the survey that women experience sexual assault and sexual harassment at disproportionately higher rates than men: they were almost twice as likely to be harassed in 2016 and more than three times as likely to be sexually assaulted in 2015 or 2016,” the report said.

Sex Discrimination Commissioner Kate Jenkins said it painted a disturbing picture of the prevalence rates of sexual assault and sexual harassment at universities.

“Sexual assault and sexual harassment are far too prevalent in university settings as they are in the broader community,” she said.

There was also significant under-reporting of sexual assault and sexual harassment to universities.
”Universities need to do more to prevent such abuse from occurring in the first place, to build a culture of respect and to respond appropriately by supporting victims of abuse and sanctioning perpetrators.

Universities Australia chair Professor Margaret Gardner apologised to victims.

“We are sorry that this happened to you,” Prof Gardner said.

“Sexual assault is a crime. The person who sexually assaulted you had no right to do what they did. It is not your fault.”

National Union of Students president Sophie Johnston described the findings from the landmark report, which surveyed thousands of students from 39 unis, as heartbreaking.

“I think it wasn’t necessarily because they were different or any more severe than what I expected, I guess it was just, after decades and decades of silence from so many victims, to actually hear the voices and see these stories is very confronting.”

The report was commissioned by Universities Australia to gauge the level of sexual assaults and harassment amid claims the institutions were involved in covering up claims made by victims.

Part of Universities Australia’s initial response to the report has been to announce a 10-point plan to help prevent assault and harassment, better support students, and more training for staff.

National 24-hour support line for university students 1800 572 224, with access to Rape and Domestic Violence Services Australia counsellors.

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