The Change the Course report shows our Australian universities have failed students on sexual harassment and sexual assault, potentially contributing to a flow-on effect in our workplaces.
If you can get away with sexual violence and assault at one of our most esteemed academic institutions, why not in your first graduate position, and then later in your leadership career?
By now you’ve seen the headline figures regarding the disturbingly high rates of sexual harassment, with one in five students being harassed at a university setting in the past year (rising to 26% if you include travel to and from campus) and 50% being sexually harassed in a general setting.
You’ve also probably seen the shocking stat that 6.9% of students say they have been sexually assaulted in the past 2 years, with 1.6% of students saying they were sexually assaulted in a university setting.
Women were twice as likely as men to be harassed, and three times as likely to be assaulted. Men were the overwhelming perpetrators of both the harassment and assault.
But I would like to note one particular figure to come out of the National survey of 39 universities and more than 30,000 students, that needs more airtime
That is the 10% of female university students who reported being sexually assaulted in the past two years either on or off campus — three times the rate of men (2.9%).
One in ten.
The sad thing is that I’m surprised this figure is so low, given my own time at university and stories from friends and Women’s Agenda readers and contacts.
What I do wonder is how these incidents affect the wellbeing and future prospects of those students affected — and also what’s next for the perpetrators. How many victims feel no option but to drop out of university (with 2.3% of women saying they were sexually assaulted in a university setting)? How many see their initial career ambitions and prospects disappearing? How many never regain their confidence again? How many go on to suffer a lifetime of anxiety, depression or other mental illness?
How many victims go on to be sexually assaulted again? Especially as women between the ages of 18 and 24 are at an increased risk of sexual violence, whether they’re at university or not?
How many perpetrators go on to do the same thing again and again.
We do have some indications regarding what happens to victims of sexual assault, based on some of Sex Discrimination Commissioner Kate Jenkins’ comments at the release of the report yesterday.
She said some victims described feeling anxious on campus because they were afraid of seeing the perpetrator. In some cases, students dropped out of universities altogether. Some felt forced out of social clubs and reported losing their friends.
It seems students are also uncomfortable or feel unsafe reporting sexual assault. Just 9% of students who experienced sexual assault in a university setting made a complaint to their university. As such, the Human Rights Commission recommends universities widely disseminate information regarding reporting avenues, as well as details on support, counselling and medical services.
But that’s too late for the students who have already attempted to report an incident, only to come up against un-trained and/or unsympathetic staff members. Some submissions from students identified a lack of training from university staff and students in dealing with being told about sexual violence. Submissions also revealed breaches of confidence in reporting such incidents, and a lack of training regarding who and where to refer victims to.
Many more such victims will never report what happened– officially or even unofficially– to trusted friends and family.
One thing to take comfort in, is the extensive media coverage this report has received and some of the swift reactions from universities to the findings. It’s on the front pages of The Age, The Canberra Times and in the headlines of The Australian today. It also led major national news bulletins last night.
It’s clear that repercussions for universities that fail to take further action could be significant, with Education Minister Simon Birmingham noting they have “legal obligations to provide a safe environment.”
Let’s hope this report and the conversation it’s generated are the start of a widespread culture change.