Advocates are urging students and parents to consider what training prospective university campus residences will provide to prevent sexual violence when deciding on where to live this year.
“We know that students at university residences have a higher risk of being sexually assaulted, and the importance of preventative measures cannot be overstated,” Sharna Bremner, the Director of End Rape on Campus Australia says. “We hear from students all the time that they want to learn more about respectful relationships, bystander intervention and how to support friends who disclose assaults.”
Although less than 10% of students live in a university residence a 2017 Australian Human Rights Commission report, Changing the Course, found that of those who were sexually assaulted in a university setting in 2015/16, 34% were living in a university residence at the time. The same report found that 63% of the students who witnessed another student being sexually assaulted at university in 2015/16 did not take action in response. A third of those said they did not know what to do.
The executive director of women’s rights organisation, Fair Agenda, Renee Carr, says all residences should be training all students in preventing sexual violence.
“It’s important students understand things like informed consent, and know how to safely intervene if they see someone acting in a predatory way towards their friends,” Carr says.
As a resource for students and parents preparing for the transition to university Fair Agenda has published the results of its annual residence survey – summarising information about what training university residences have in place to address the alarming rates of sexual assault on campus.
This year 233 residences were approached with the survey which asked whether they will train their students and staff in sexual violence prevention, if the training will cover topics like consent, how to be an ethical bystander, and how to respond appropriately to a friend’s disclosure, and whether those trainings will involve experts from a sexual assault service.
Of the 153 residences that provided a response by the survey’s deadline, 135 indicated they will train all students in preventing sexual violence. Of those, 80 have a sexual assault service involved in providing the training.
“Sexual assault services have unique expertise when it comes to training to prevent sexual violence – both in supporting people already affected, and also in challenging the attitudes and behaviours that lead to violence,” Karen Willis from Rape and Domestic Violence Services Australia says. When it comes to sexual violence prevention, Willis says unqualified trainers can actually end up doing more harm than good.
Sharna Bremner agrees.
“Students whose residences have provided training that was delivered by a sexual assault service have told us how valuable they’ve found it, and we believe that all students deserve not only to receive sexual assault training, but to have that training delivered by experts in the field,” she says.
Fair Agenda’s Renee Carter says many residences have improved their training but too many haven’t.
“It still appears there will be thousands of students living in residences which aren’t investing adequately in prevention or who are unwilling to be transparent about what training they do or don’t provide,” Carr says. “We urge all students and parents to find out what prevention training their residence will provide and, if necessary, to advocate for them to invest more in this vital area.”