Universities Unite To Fight Sexual Assault

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Universities across Australia will release data about their institutions’ sexual assault and harassment this August as part of a national first attempt to show the true nature and extent of the issue.

All 39 universities involved in the 2016 Respect. Now. Always. survey have agreed to release their data as part of a Australian Human Rights Commission national report.

The report will not only contain statistics relating to sexual assault and harassment involving university students, but will also examine students experiences reporting or seeking help and how universities are responding.

Sex Discrimination Commissioner Kate Jenkins believes the information obtained through the survey will enable the commission to make clear recommendations to universities.

“I am confident that this information and our recommendations will provide a strong basis for universities to take action to prevent sexual assault and harassment and to improve their responses to it,” she said.

The report will include data from Monash University, University of Melbourne, RMIT University, La Trobe University, Swinburne University of Technology, Victoria University, Australian Catholic University, Federation University Australia and Deakin University.

Submissions for the report were also open to the public earlier this year.

End Rape on Campus Australia made a submission in January noting that victims are often told their university cannot take action unless the incident has been reported to police.

“However, universities do in fact have disciplinary and misconduct procedures, which give university officials the power to investigate student misconduct, make findings, and deliver penalties,” the submission said. 

The submission also noted existing data, including an 2016 investigation by Channel 7’s Sunday Night that found only 6 student expulsions came as a result of over 500 official complaints of sexual harassment and assault in the past five years.

The 575 reports included 145 that related specifically to rape.

Last week it was reported that a Monash University student was charged with four counts of rape and one count of sexual assault.

The 22-year-old was charged following the alleged rape of a fellow student at a off-campus event in Gippsland last year.

According to The Age, “Monash University has since introduced incident management and mandatory reporting protocols for all off-campus co-curricular events, including student-run clubs and societies.”

End Rape on Campus Australia’s submission also highlights the nature of rape culture within university communities.

It states that a VicHealth poll in 2014 found that around one in five people in Australia believe that a woman is “partly responsible” for being raped if she was intoxicated and one in six support the notion that when women say no to sex, they really mean yes.

The submission also draws attention to a 2016 Facebook group that encouraged students to rate the attractiveness of female students from the University of Melbourne.

The students’ photos, study timetables and whereabouts on campus were also shared on the page.

Hack reported the page was later removed following a change.org petition that gained support from over 23,000 people.

Facebook ignored all direct requests from the university to take down the page.

Last year the Melbourne University received 12 reports of alleged harassment, indecent assault, stalking or indecent exposure and three reports of alleged sexual assault.

“While the university actively encourages and supports the reporting of sexual assaults to police, it acknowledges that some students are not prepared to do this,”  said a University of Melbourne spokesperson.

“Like many other large communities, the underreporting of incidents likely remains an issue.

“This issue has been a key focus for the university and has led to the establishment of Respect Week on campus as well as participation in Universities Australia Respect.Now.Always campaign and survey.”

While the University believes it has taken a lead in wellbeing and safety initiatives, including the Australian-first UniSafe appit also recognises “there is more to be done”.

RMIT University also welcome the release of the survey results and just this year begun a partnership with the Centre Against Sexual Assault.

“The results should provide an evidence base for future actions. The University has committed to releasing the results as we believe it is important to be open,” said an RMIT spokesperson.

The national report will be available Tuesday 1 August.

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