Advocates call for action as universities fail to prevent sexual violence

Advocates call for action as another 8,800 students expected to be sexually assaulted this academic year


Women’s safety advocates are calling for major changes and independent oversight to address sexual violence in universities as another 8,800 students are expected to be sexually assaulted by the end of this academic year. 

“Students who are sexually assaulted or harassed in a university context have needs that can only be met by their university,” said Sharna Bremner, founder of End Rape on Campus Australia.

“Court processes can take years to deliver any kind of outcome – students can’t wait that long for the basic support they need, and that could make the difference between graduating or failing out.”

Echoing this sentiment, Renee Carr, Executive Director at Fair Agenda said, “Despite saying the right things, many universities are still actively causing harm with their response to sexual violence by their students and staff. Five years on from the landmark Human Rights Commission Inquiry into this crisis – National Student Safety Survey data shows very little has changed. Students are paying the price; and universities are not being held accountable.”

In a submission to the national ‘Universities Accord’ reform process currently underway, End Rape on Campus Australia and Fair Agenda have said that they recommend “the creation of an independent, expert-led accountability and oversight mechanism, such as a Taskforce, with a mandate to address sexual violence in university contexts”.

Most universities are failing at every point of responsibility when it comes to instances of sexual violence, according to the groups, which is why women’s safety advocates are call for an independent accountability and oversight mechanism.

Affecting student wellbeing and education outcomes, the recent submission points to areas where universities are failing to meet basic safety standards, including a lack of evidence-based interventions to prevent rape on campus as well as failure to ensure staff don’t have a history of using sexual violence.

The submission also notes failures in supporting students who report rape with timely access to trauma-informated counselling, and a failure to provide responses for urgent requests to basic safety and academic accommodations. 

“When you want to change your tutorial so you’re not in class with someone who raped you – you need the university to act,” said Bremner, adding that the same applies for someone dealing with PTSD from a sexual assault who’s asked for an extension on their assignment. 

“Frequently university administrations also choose not to protect students when rapists are reported at their institution,” she said. “We’ve had cases where multiple young women have reported the same offending student to their university, and he’s been allowed to remain on campus, which has enabled him to harm other students. If he’d been copying an essay, instead of violently violating another student’s body – university policy would have seen him expelled.”

Bremner’s examples highlight the urgent need for universities to ensure students aren’t forced to sit in the same classroom as the person who raped them, and the need for action to be taken to ensure staff or students known to be using violence aren’t given the opportunity to cause further harm in university contexts. 

Advocates also point to the need for universities to enable minor adjustments that help ensure students don’t fail out of their course while dealing with trauma associated with sexual assault. 

University student and Fair Agenda campaigner Dani Villafaña said that sexual violence is highly damaging to students’ wellbeing and that “when you’re too scared to go to campus, that means you can’t go to class, or to the library, or to academic support services.”

“When you can’t safely access the things you need to learn, the chances of you being able to succeed academically are almost zero. And if you don’t graduate, you can’t fulfill your dream of being a doctor, or a teacher, or an engineer.”

The Australian Human Rights Commission confirmed the scale of sexual violence at universities five years ago, but Carr says substantive action is still yet to be taken and that universities “can’t be trusted to mark their own work in this area”. 

“We need the federal government to ensure independent oversight – and deliver accountability when universities decide to put student safety and wellbeing at risk.”

If you or someone you know is impacted by family violence, call 1800RESPECT on 1800 737 732 or visit

In an emergency, call 000.


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