Surveying the System

4 October 2016

This year all 39 universities in Australia are taking part in the National Sexual Assault on Campus Survey run by the Australian Human Rights Commission (AHRC).

The results of the survey will provide an insight into the numbers of sexual assaults occurring on campuses. Results will be compared to the reports of sexual assaults received by universities and the police. The survey includes an open call for anonymous submissions by students who have experienced sexual assault or sexual harassment while at university.

Adriana Mells, Women’s Officer at the University of Melbourne Student Union, is positive about the outcome for the survey.

“This survey is going to be the first of its kind and its results hope to inform what Universities should be doing better, in terms of reporting procedure and support services for students who have experienced harassment and assault,” she says.

The results of the almost $1 million survey will be published online, including accounts by students who have consented to have their submissions published. The University of Melbourne currently has programs running which hope to put an end to assaults on campus. Though the University of Melbourne’s description of sexual consent by the Safer Community Program is simply the legal definition, “free agreement to engage in a sexual act”, the reasons for not having free agreement listed are due to alcohol, fraud or force.

The national survey calls on students to report much broader and common harassment such as “inappropriate staring or leering” and “sexually suggestive comments or jokes that made you feel offended”.

Women’s Officer for the National Union of Students Heidi La Paglia is hoping the AHRC survey will provide a clear picture of what the problem looks like in Australia.

In a statement she says, “[It] will also provide data on how universities are responding to sexual assault, which will be analysed and used to develop best practice guidelines which we will be able to use to hold universities to account. Once the results are out, universities will no longer be able to provide excuses for why they are not acting on the issue”.  

A recent report by the National Union of Students found that 53 per cent of abuse victims were targeted on campus, either at a university event or in college with only 5 per cent reporting their harassment or assault to the police or the university.

With university services being stretched more than ever, the results of the survey are likely to impact universities’ priority spending, particularly towards counsellors and support services. The survey will also provide a critique of the effectiveness of services at universities and how well current policies are affected.


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