The findings were released from the first-ever national student survey on sexual assault and harassment, commissioned by Universities Australia.
The survey is part of the Respect. Now. Always. initiative, which has resulted in significant action nationally and across all universities to prevent sexual assault and harassment, and provide greater support for survivors.
University of Newcastle (UON) Vice-Chancellor, Professor Caroline McMillen, acknowledged the bravery of those who participated in the survey and thanked them for sharing their very personal accounts.
“It takes great courage to tell your story and relive what – for many – are very traumatic experiences,” Professor McMillen said.
“My assurance to you is that no voice will go unheard. Your stories and experiences are valued, and provide the University with a much clearer picture of what we need to do to enhance prevention of sexual assault and sexual harassment, and support for survivors.
“Sexual assault is a crime and sexual harassment is completely unacceptable in any context, on or off campus. Every university student has the right to safety and the right to live without fear of sexual assault or harassment.
“UON is committed to redoubling our education and prevention strategies, and our focus on support for survivors.”
The release by the Australian Human Rights Commission included institution-based findings from all 39 Australian universities. The Commission received 30,930 responses in total, including 623 responses from UON students.
The survey found that 55% of UON respondents reported experiencing sexual harassment in any location during 2016, and 30% of respondents reported that sexual harassment occurred in a location associated with the University. For this group of respondents who had experienced sexual harassment, 29% experienced inappropriate staring or leering, 23% experienced sexually suggestive comments or jokes, and 13% experienced intrusive questions about life/appearance.
The survey also found 8% of UON respondents had experienced a sexual assault at any location during 2015 and/or 2016, and 1.4% of respondents reported that the assault occurred at a location associated with the University.
Approximately half of UON respondents knew where to seek support or assistance within the University regarding sexual harassment or sexual assault.
“While it is encouraging that many students knew where to go to access support, there is much to be done. These findings have provided key learnings for UON, in particular that different student cohorts can have very different experiences and we are now able to refine our strategies further and provide support to meet the diverse needs of different student groups.
“The University will continue to work with the broader student community, including survivors and their support networks, and is determined to prevent and address sexual harassment and sexual assault.”
Over the past two years, UON has enhanced and expanded its initiatives to further improve its support services and education programs.
Annually, the University undertakes campaigns to highlight appropriate sexual behaviour and sources for support. Developed with students, the ongoing Play by the rules campaign is one example providing practical information on consent, as well as support and advice. UON students and staff have also collaborated to develop the Sexual Health and Relationship Program, which provides information on consent, relationships and sexual health.
UON also has in place targeted initiatives for students living on-campus such as the compulsory Consent Matters course. Training on sexual consent is part of the University residences’ orientation program and safety workshops are also held for female residents.
Initiatives for the broader university community include support for staff and student leaders to respond to disclosures of sexual violence. Training and information also aims to ensure best practice approaches and information is offered to support survivors.
Based on the survey findings, the University has also committed to the following initiatives:
- rolling out compulsory education programs for all UON students in partnership with student bodies
- conducting further quantitative and qualitative research to explore issues that emerged through the Human Rights Commission findings and better understand needs of the broader university community and particular student cohorts
- development and implementation of a more targeted orientation program for students
- establishing a UON Community Standards document, which articulates our shared values and expected behaviours of everyone in the UON community.
We are aware that members of the University community might need support during this time and they are encouraged to use the resources available through UON’s Campus Care or Employee Assistance Program. A national help line for student survivors is also available at 1800 572 224. Information and support are also available at www.newcastle.edu.au/sexualassaultandharassment.
The University will hold a briefing for members of the community about the Respect. Now. Always. survey outcomes and actions at NeW Space on Wednesday 2 August 2017 at 4pm.