DOWNUNDER Study to determine sexual assault prevalence in Australian universities

Study to determine sexual assault prevalence in Australian universities

Students at 40 universities invited to answer confidential survey conducted by Human Rights Commission

University of Sydney Quadrangle


A survey of University of Sydney students found one in four had experienced sexual harassment or assault.
Photograph: Paul Miller/AAP

A landmark study will for the first time determine the prevalence of sexual assault and sexual harassment in Australian universities.

The study, commissioned by Universities Australia – the peak body representing the university sector – is being conducted by the Australian Human Rights Commission.

Students at the country’s 40 universities will be invited to answer
the confidential survey, which will ask them about their experiences of
sexual assault and sexual harassment.

All student responses will be de-identified so that confidentiality
and privacy are protected. The commission, rather than universities,
will hold the data.

The study is part of the Respect. Now. Always.
campaign launched in February, which aims to raise awareness of sexual
harassment, increase the profile of support services for students, and
obtain prevalence data to guide university policies and services.

The president of the Australian Human Rights Commission, Gillian Triggs, said the findings would help address “the ad hoc nature of the understanding about the problem”.

“Let’s get a real sense of what’s happening on the ground from
students, and let’s use the evidence to inform university policy and to
see whether those policies are meeting the needs of our students,”
Triggs said.

“We want nationally accurate data. I think each institution has
attempted to deal with this issue in its own way, some better than
others. There has been a falling back on this idea that the incidence of
what is happening in universities is just a reflection of the incidence
rate in the general community, or lower than that rate.

“But the truth is we don’t know if that’s right or not. We don’t have the data.”

The survey has been developed with input from experts from the
Australian Human Rights Centre at the University of New South Wales, the
Australian Bureau of Statistics, Roy Morgan Research and the Australian
Human Rights Commission.

The chair of Universities Australia, Professor Barney Glover, said
universities had a “zero tolerance” policy on sexual assault and sexual
harassment. “This survey will give us an even clearer picture of further
work we need to do,” Glover said.

“University leaders are determined to use the survey results to keep
improving our responses and the support we provide to students who have
experienced sexual assault or harassment.”

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Our
Watch CEO, Mary Barry, said there remained a myth that “boys can’t help
themselves, so it’s up to girls to avoid any unwanted sexual activity”.

“A girl is likely to be held solely responsible if she is assaulted
or raped, because she ‘didn’t stand up for herself’ or ‘was dressed
inappropriately’.” Barry said.

“This feeds into sexual stereotypes and rape myths, which
unfortunately are internalised by girls as well as boys. The reality is
that only rapists are responsible for rape.”

A survey of 1,926 University of Sydney students
published in May found one in four reported having experienced an
incident of sexual harassment or assault as a student, and 6% of all
respondents had experienced an incident on campus or at a
university-related event.

The survey also revealed that only 18.9% of students who had experienced an incident reported it to anyone.

In the same month, the journal of Wesley College, a privately
operated residential facility on the campus, was widely criticised for
naming female students with the “best ass”, “best cleavage” and as the
“biggest porn star”. The college refused to cooperate with a campus investigation.

If you feel distress at any time during or after taking part in this survey, support is available by calling 1800 RESPECT.

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