By Ann Carter
After a long campaign by the advocacy group, ‘End Rape on Campus,’ the Australian Human Rights Commission has pushed the issue of sexual assault and harassment on university campuses into the national spotlight, following the release of a report.
The report based on a national survey of university students, had some pretty disturbing findings. One in five students were sexually harassed in a university setting, excluding travel to and from university, in 2016.
How do universities handle the issue?
End Rape on Campus Australia, called on 39 Vice Chancellors to take urgent action. This includes, training for counsellors, as well as student representatives, staff and other individuals who receive disclosures of sexual assault.
Concern has been expressed about the ways in which Australian universities handle reports of sexual assault and harassment.
Charles Sturt University Vice Chancellor, Professor Andrew Vann has welcomed the release of the report.
“Unfortunately, we do know we have incidents of sexual assault and harassment on our campuses, what we want to do is to work to eliminate those.”
Professor Van said CSU is already addressing the majority of these issues, through a number of key initiatives, such as the roll out of first responder training to staff.
What can universities do better?
Universities Australia also released a 10-point plan that outlines how the university sector intends to prevent sexual assault and harassment and support survivors. This also follows their commitment to fund an 1800 hotline for student survivors of sexual assault.
However, Ms Hush said “They are good commitments to make from the universities, but lets wait and see whether they put them into action.”
“For many decades universities have been silent on the issue of sexual assault and harassment, and slow to put in place proper preventative mechanisms.”
This is a critical time for Australian universities to make a change and ensure all individuals who are impacted by sexual assault and harassment have access to quality support.
“Universities have the power to investigate, make findings and expel students. They have very broad ranging powers” said Ms Hush.
Ms Hush said until universities take decisive action and punish students for acts of sexual misconduct, they are really sending a message to students that this is okay and they can get away with it, with impunity.
If you or someone you know is impacted by rape or sexual assault, call 1800RESPECT on 1800 737 732 or visit www.1800RESPECT.org.au. In an emergency, call 000.