Australia’s universities on Tuesday launched what they said was the first comprehensive national survey of sexual harassment and sexual assault on campuses.
The peak body Universities Australia has asked the Human Rights Commission to conduct the survey.
Universities will use the data to improve their policies, procedures and support services.
“We’ve all seen – and not just in the last 12 months, unfortunately all too frequently over many years – from time to time serious concerns expressed regarding safety on campuses,” Universities Australia chair Professor Barney Glover said.
“We have a zero-tolerance policy towards sexual assault and sexual harassment on our campuses.
“As part of that, we recognise that practice is not uniformly good across the sector and we’re all looking at our processes, our policies to see how we can improve.”
Professor Glover said the initiative was partly motivated by a survey conducted by the National Union of Students last year which found 72.75 per cent of respondents had experienced some form of sexual harassment on campus and 27 per cent had been sexually assaulted.
“It was a relatively small survey and had question marks over its methodology so it wasn’t a prevalence survey as such,” he said.
“The only way to really get to the bottom of the extent to which sexual assault and sexual harassment is occurring in Australia’s universities is to undertake a comprehensive prevalence survey.”
The Human Rights Commission will analyse the responses from a representative sample of students from Australia’s 39 universities.In addition, any student who wishes to have their voice heard can also make a confidential online submission.
“Over the past year, we have heard a great deal about sexual assault and sexual harassment of university students,” Sex Discrimination Commissioner Kate Jenkins said.
“These reports are worrying. As universities themselves have observed, one sexual assault on campus is one too many.”
Survey to evaluate if residential colleges are the problem
Last week, it emerged students at the on-campus residence of Macquarie University had been running a Facebook page where they photographed sexualised behaviour on campus and made explicit comments on it.
Last month, five Australian National University students accused of sexual harassment were expelled and two others were suspended from a Catholic residential college.
A woman said the group of men had shared photos and videos of female residents’ clothed breasts on a Facebook message group.
Earlier in the year, it emerged students at Wesley College at Sydney University released an annual journal detailing sexual exploits on campus and rated students according to criteria such as cleavage and number of sexual partners.
Professor Glover said the survey would show if residential colleges were the main source of sexual harassment and assaults.
“This survey will enable us to have definitive data and then we have an opportunity to respond to that both in terms of the prevalence — the scale and the scope of the problem we’re dealing [with] and importantly where it’s occurring in our universities,” he said.