More than half of all university students were sexually harassed on at least one occasion last year, a landmark survey by the Human Rights Commission has found.
Fifty-one per cent of students were sexually harassed at least once in 2016, the commission found, while one in four students was sexually harassed in a university setting on at least one occasion in 2016.
A university setting includes on-campus, travelling to and from uni, and off-campus events organised by the uni or endorsed by it.
The survey also found 6.9 per cent of students were sexually assaulted on at least one occasion in 2015 or 2016.
Overwhelmingly men were the perpetrators of both sexual assault and sexual harassment reported in the survey, and women experienced harassment and assaults at disproportionately higher rates than men.
Almost a third of harassment took place on university grounds or teaching spaces, and one in five assaulted said it occurred at a university or residence social event.
Residential colleges were reported as a particular area of concern.
The Human Rights Commission conducted the survey to uncover the extent of sexual assault and harassment on and off Australian campuses.
All 39 of Australia’s universities will also release data later this morning on the incidence of sexual assaults on their respective campuses.
Sex Discrimination Commissioner Kate Jenkins said the report marked a huge milestone.
“For decades, advocates and survivors have argued for change. We have all heard stories of behaviours occurring on campus,” she said.
“Today, for the first time, we have statistically significant national data on the prevalence and nature of this problem at Australia’s universities.
“Attitudinal change and greater awareness is needed, not only among university students but also university staff who receive reports of these behaviours.”
The Human Rights Commission surveyed 39,000 students across the country about sexual assault and sexual harassment at universities.
It was prompted by years of activism by women’s groups on campuses amid disturbing claims that universities were responding poorly to incidents of sexual assault.
The commission made nine recommendations including a strong commitment to action from uni leaders, improving institutional responses to assaults and harassment, and engaging an independent expert-led review to address high assault rates at residential colleges.
University leaders on every campus around Australia will meet with students and staff today to discuss the commission’s report.
Sophie Johnston, from the National Union of Students, said the survey was an opportunity to acknowledge past failures and take action.
“This is a cultural battle we are fighting everywhere,” she said.