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Shocking survey: Australia's "heartbreaking" rate of uni sexual assault and harassment


Just over half of university students have been sexually harassed and seven per cent sexually assaulted on at least one occasion, according to a landmark national survey of more than 30,000 Australian students.

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The Australian Human Rights Commission report, which included responses from students attending 39 institutions, showed women were almost twice as likely as men to be harassed, and more than three times as likely to be assaulted.

And men were overwhelmingly the perpetrators of both sexual assault and sexual harassment cases reported by students to the commission.

“A significant proportion of students who were sexually assaulted or sexually harassed knew the perpetrator, who was most likely to be a fellow student from their university,” the report said.

“It is clear from the survey that women experience sexual assault and sexual harassment at disproportionately higher rates than men: they were almost twice as likely to be harassed in 2016 and more than three times as likely to be sexually assaulted in 2015 or 2016,” the report said.

See an overview of the South Australian data, and local university responses, here.

Sex Discrimination Commissioner Kate Jenkins said it painted a disturbing picture of the prevalence rates of sexual assault and sexual harassment at universities.

“Sexual assault and sexual harassment are far too prevalent in university settings as they are in the broader community,” she said.

There was also significant under-reporting of sexual assault and sexual harassment to universities.

“Universities need to do more to prevent such abuse from occurring in the first place, to build a culture of respect and to respond appropriately by supporting victims of abuse and sanctioning perpetrators.”

Universities Australia chair Professor Margaret Gardner apologised to victims.

“We are sorry that this happened to you,” Gardner said.

“Sexual assault is a crime. The person who sexually assaulted you had no right to do what they did. It is not your fault.”

National Union of Students president Sophie Johnston described the findings from the landmark report, which surveyed thousands of students from 39 unis, as heartbreaking.

“I think it wasn’t necessarily because they were different or any more severe than what I expected, I guess it was just, after decades and decades of silence from so many victims, to actually hear the voices and see these stories is very confronting.”

The report was commissioned by Universities Australia to gauge the level of sexual assaults and harassment amid claims the institutions were involved in covering up claims made by victims.

Part of Universities Australia’s initial response to the report has been to announce a 10-point plan to help prevent assault and harassment, better support students, and more training for staff.

National 24-hour support line for university students 1800 572 224, with access to Rape and Domestic Violence Services Australia counsellors.


51 per cent of university students sexually harassed at least once in 2016.

One in four students was harassed in a university setting (on campus, while travelling to university, at a university-endorsed social event or in university employment).

One in three harassment incidents happened on university grounds or in classrooms.

6.9 per cent were sexually assaulted (about one in 15).

1.6 per cent of students were assaulted in a university setting (almost one in four of the total who were sexually assaulted).

One in five of these assaults happened at university or residence social events.

Women almost twice as likely as men to be harassed, and more than three times as likely to be assaulted.

Men overwhelmingly reported as the perpetrators.

51 per cent of those who reported assault or harassment knew the perpetrator – most likely to be a fellow student.

94 four per cent of those harassed and 87 per cent of those assaulted at university did not make a formal complaint or report.

Six in 10 students said they didn’t know how to formally report or complain about incidents.

Australian readers seeking support and information can contact the following organisations:

National university support line: 1800 572 224 (From 31 July to 30 November 2017)

1800 RESPECT: 1800 737 732

Lifeline: 131114

Beyond Blue: 1300 224 636


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