30 March 2017


Data indicating the University’s performance in the first nationwide survey on sexual assault on campus may never be released.

The survey was commissioned by Universities Australia (UA) from the Australian Human Rights Commission, with results set for release in the first half of this year.

The University of Melbourne Student Union (UMSU) is urging the University to consider releasing their specific results through continuous negotiation.

“Last year it seemed like the there was a deal struck where all or most universities would be releasing their individualised data together. Now it appears like that deal is no longer going ahead,” UMSU Women’s Officer Hannah Billett said.

The news of the possible suppression of the complete results comes after a recent submission to the Australian Human Rights Commission, which accused universities of covering up cases of sexual assault.

“Students that submitted to the survey put themselves through something that was incredibly emotionally draining, having to answer really intimate questions about some of the most painful experiences of their lives. We think that they did that in the hope there would be positive outcomes and that this data would help to improve University policies,” she said.

“Students have the right to see the data and hold the University to account,” she added.

“While this Australia-wide data would be useful for policy makers in government, we think that given universities around Australia have different policies and cultures, that individualised data is appropriate.”

Billett said the results are likely to have a positive effect on campus culture by making it more likely that students report cases of sexual assault and seek help. Billett also suggested the results could contribute to victims’ healing processes.

Director of Students and Equity, Elizabeth Capp, says the release of the results is a decision that will be left to Universities Australia.

“We have at no stage committed to releasing UoM results to UMSU or the public, so there no backflip here,” she said.

“UA – representing the 39 participating universities – has not yet determined the best way to manage this important matter, so as to ensure that the data is accurately and appropriately reported.”

“We look forward to working with UMSU, the Graduate Students Association and other student groups to achieve these shared goals, building on the work of our Respect Initiative.”

There has also been widespread disapproval from academics and participants of the way in which Universities Australia has handled the results and sourced data.

A formal complaint has been made to the UNSW Human Research Ethics Committee, which has confirmed that the submission instrument was not covered by ethics approval. This is a claim that has been rejected by Sex Discrimination Commissioner, Kate Jenkins, who has described the criticism as “completely unfounded”.

National Women’s Officer of the National Union of Students (NUS) Abby Stapleton says the survey is unlikely to produce solid results.

“This is down to the interference of Universities Australia, who see to protect their branding at the expense of survivors of sexual assault and harassment on campus,” she said, in a statement posted to the NUS’ Facebook page.

“There is no place for the opinions of university admin in the discussion on sexual assault,” she said.

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