News

More than half of Australian students sexually harassed last year, survey finds

CW: sexual assault, sexual harassment, homophobia, AHRC survey, gendered violence

A long-awaited survey of more than 30,000 university students was released Tuesday morning, showing that 51 per cent of students were sexually harassed on at least one occasion in 2016.

The survey, conducted by the Australian Human Rights Commission at 39 universities across Australia, is the most thorough analysis of university sexual assault ever conducted in the country.

The results show that women were almost twice as likely to be sexually harassed than men.

The statistics were worse for individuals within minority sexualities and gender orientations: 44 per cent of bisexual students and 38 per cent of gay, lesbian or homosexual students were sexually harassed in a university setting in 2016, compared with 23 per cent of students who identified as heterosexual.

Trans* and gender diverse students were more likely to have been sexually harassed (45 per cent) in a university setting in 2016 than women and men.

Overall, 6.9 per cent of students were sexually assaulted on at least one occasion in 2015 or 2016, with 1.6 per cent reporting that the sexual assault occurred in a university setting.

Women (10 per cent) were more than three times as likely as men (2.9 per cent) to have been sexually assaulted in 2015 or 2016.

More than half of the perpetrators of these sexual assaults were students from the same university that the victim attended. The perpetrators were most likely to be male – 71 per cent of perpetrators for sexual harassment were male and 83 per cent of sexual assaults were committed by men.

Only 9 per cent of individuals who were sexually assaulted reported their incident to the authorities, and only around one third of students who witnessed a sexual assault reported it.

The Sex Discrimination commissioner, Kate Jenkins, said that these results show that ‘universities must do more to publicise their reporting processes’, noting that even when students reported their assaults, they were met with inconsistent and poor reactions.

The commissioner said that ‘one woman was asked about her drinking habits’, and a supervisor told another woman to ‘take it as a compliment’.

A man who was sexually assaulted submitted that he did not report the crime because ‘male victims of sexual assault are not taken seriously’.

Among the recommendations were the suggestions for universities to make leadership and governance on the issue more visible, and for all residential colleges to undertake an ‘independent expert-led review’ on sexual assault.

This follows a review that the former Sex Discrimination commissioner Elizabeth Broderick is currently heading into acts of sexual assault across residential colleges at the University of Sydney, known as the Broderick Review.

The survey received 1,849 written submissions, according to Commissioner Jenkins, more than any other report ever written by the Australian Human Rights Commission.

There was controversy earlier in the year when it was announced that universities could opt out of releasing data on their institution. However, since then, all universities involved in the survey have said that they would release the information.

If this story has raised any concerns, you can contact:

Canberra Rape Crisis Centre, Crisis Line
(02) 6247 2525

ANU Counselling
(02) 6125 2442

1800 RESPECT
1800 737 732

ANU Women’s Department
Contact the Women’s Officer, Holly Zhang:
– For non-urgent inquiries: sa.womens@anu.edu.au
– For urgent matters: 0467 092 808