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Australian universities called on to act on 'damning' sexual assault figures

The landmark report by the Australian Human Rights Commission into sexual assault at universities has found that 51% of students were sexually harassed at least once in 2016

1 August 2017, 8:27am
Australian National University students protest after the release of a survey revealing the levels of sexual assaults and sexual harassment
Australian National University students protest after the release of a survey revealing the levels of sexual assaults and sexual harassment
One in 10 female university students in Australia say they have been sexually assaulted in the past two years, and only 4% of students believe their universities are doing enough to provide sexual assault support, a landmark report from the Australian Human Rights Commission and Universities Australia has found.

The national survey of 31,000 students  at 39 Australian universities revealed that half of students (51%) were sexually harassed at least once in 2016, with one in five students sexually harassed in a university setting.

6.9% of students were sexually assaulted at least once in 2015 or 2016, with 1.6%assaulted in a university setting.

The report also found that 94% of students who were sexually harassed and 87% of students who were sexually assaulted on campus did not make a formal complaint to their university.

Advocacy groups said that these figures were “incredibly damning” and demonstrated consistent institutional failure.

The report recommended universities establish specialist sexual assault services for students, and create an independent, “expert-led” review of the high rates of sexual assault at residential colleges.

The president of the National Union of Students, Sophie Johnston, said action was “long overdue” and that years of non-existent sexual assault policy had “deterred so many people from speaking out”.

The union’s women’s officer, Abby Stapleton, said students “simply don’t know where to seek help”.

“Often universities choose to support the perpetrators rather than the victim, university management would rather sweep sexual assault under the carpet than take steps to prevent it,” she said.

“These numbers are incredibly damning and indicate the extent of the institutional failings of Australian universities.”

Outlining the report’s recommendations on Tuesday, the sex discrimination commissioner Kate Jenkins said there was a “worrying” perception that residential colleges were “aware of [sexual assault], and they condoned it”.

Universities were quick to accept the report’s findings, with the University of Sydney’s vice-chancellor, Dr Michael Spence, among many who promised to implement all of the recommendations.