Sexual assault 'far too prevalent' in Australian universities

National survey finds that one in 10 female students have been attacked in past two years

August 1, 2017
Crime scene

One in 10 female students at Australian universities say that they have been sexually assaulted within the past two years, according to a survey that found sparse confidence in higher education institutions’ efforts to tackle the problem.

The survey of more than 30,000 students at all the country’s universities was conducted by the Australian Human Rights Commission and is the first national study of its kind in the world.

It found that, overall, 6.9 per cent of students had been sexually assaulted in the past two years, with 1.9 per cent saying that the attack occurred in a university setting (including travel to or from campus).

However, when only female respondents were considered, the proportion who said that they were victims of sexual assault rose to 10 per cent.

About half (51 per cent) of all students said that they had been sexually harassed on at least one occasion in 2016, with 26 per cent saying that this had occurred in a university setting. Women were almost twice as likely to report sexual harassment.

About half of the victims of sexual harassment or assault in a university setting said that they knew some or all of the perpetrators, with the perpetrators being male in the majority of cases (71 per cent for sexual harassment, and 83 per cent for sexual assault).

However, the vast majority of respondents who said that they had experienced sexual assault or harassment said that they had not made a formal report or complaint to their higher education institution.

Only 6 per cent of students felt that their university was doing enough to provide clear and accessible information on sexual harassment procedures, policies and support services, and this figure fell to 4 per cent in relation to sexual assault.

Katy Jenkins, Australia’s sex discrimination commission, said the report “paints a disturbing picture” of rates of sexual assault and harassment, which she described as being “far too prevalent”.

“The rates of violence experienced by young people are a call to action for Australian universities,” she said. “Every young person who is contemplating a university education is entitled to expect that they will be able to study in an environment that is safe and promotes their well-being.”

chris.havergal@timeshighereducation.com

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