Australia

Universities Praised by Human Rights Commission for Action After Sex Assault Report

Almost all Australian universities have implemented the recommendations of the Human Rights Commission following shocking reports of sexual harassment at universities.

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.

Student leader breaks silence about sexual assault

ANU student James Connolly
The report was based on a landmark survey of 39,000 students across the country and was prompted by years of activism by women’s groups on campuses amid disturbing claims universities were responding poorly to incidents of sexual assault.

Today, the commission announced 32 of 39 universities accepted all of the commission’s recommendations, the rest accepting the majority.

Steps taken include reviews of assault policies and procedures, training to equip staff and students to respond appropriately, awareness of respectful relationships as well as apps to improve safety.

“I’m pleased to see Vice Chancellors demonstrating leadership and taking action in response to the report,” Commissioner Kate Jenkins said.

“I urge [them] to seize upon this opportunity to show leadership and make a difference for students and Australian society more broadly.

“As we have seen recently, sexual assault and sexual harassment occur not only at universities, but across our society.”

The Australian National University, which had a sexual assault rate double that of universities nationally, has now appointed Donelle Wheeler, former diplomat and president of the Australian National Committee for UN Women, as independent chair of the campus-wide group for addressing sexism, sexual harassment and sexual assault.

The Canberra Rape Crisis Centre has also had a full-time presence on campus since August.

Deakin University has committed to an independent review to uncover what factors have been behind sexual assault and harassment in Deakin student residential settings.

The Change the Course report found only 6 per cent of students thought their university was doing enough to combat sexual harassment.

All 39 universities have taken steps to increase availability and visibility of support services and 20 have or will launch apps that provide information on consent, relationships and campus security.

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