Enough is enough
The release this week of the Change the Course Report on Sexual Harassment and Assault in Australia’s universities represents a turning point for higher education. More than 30,000 university students responded to the survey to share their experience of sexual harassment and sexual assault in locations both associated with and not associated with their university.
I wish to recognise the bravery of those students who took part in the survey and to thank them for providing critical information and insights into where and how sexual harassment and assault is experienced - it takes great courage to relive what for many would have been deeply traumatic experiences.
Universities Australia commissioned the national survey, which was conducted by the Australian Human Rights Commission as part of the Respect. Now. Always. initiative. The aim of the survey was to provide universities with a deeper understanding of the nature and type of sexual harassment and assault experienced by students in order to provide the most appropriate education and prevention strategies and support for survivors.
At UON, 623 students took part in the survey, which found that 55% of those UON students who responded reported experiencing sexual harassment in any location during 2016, and that 30% of respondents reported that sexual harassment occurred in a location specifically associated with the University. The survey also found 8% of UON respondents had experienced a sexual assault at any location during 2015 and/or 2016, and that 1.4% reported that the assault occurred at a location associated with the University. Approximately half of the UON students knew where to seek support or assistance within the University regarding sexual harassment or sexual assault.
As Professor Croucher AM, the President of the Australian Human Rights Commission reflected at the release of the report, going to university is a time for intellectual exploration. For many students, it is also the time for sexual exploration. Many university students will develop a raft of respectful relationships with friends from different backgrounds and engage in consensual sex, and indeed many students will meet their life partner at university.
In 2017 there is no place in universities for so-called ‘rites of passage’, which include rituals steeped in alcohol where both female and male students are harassed or assaulted. Let’s lay to rest practices from another era where women and men are objectified and not replicate them in online or social media environments simply because we can. Every student has the right to live a life free from the fear, experience and memory of sexual assault or sexual harassment. In order to move forwards, UON staff and students will work together to create a different culture.
UON’s current support services, education programs and safety initiatives have been enhanced in recent years and include simplified processes for students to lodge reports and get support through a single referral system, ‘Campus Care’. The University has also released a new student facing portal providing practical information on consent, reporting and support and advice (www.newcastle.edu.au/rna).
UON students and staff have also collaborated to develop the Sexual Health and Relationship Program, which provides information on consent, relationships and sexual health and has in place targeted initiatives for students living on-campus such as the compulsory Consent Matters course. Training on sexual consent is also part of the University residences’ orientation program and safety workshops are also held for female residents.
Support for staff and student leaders who respond to disclosures of sexual violence include targeted education and training, which aims to ensure best practice approaches and information is offered to support survivors.
The University also has a 24-hour security shuttle service to escort students and staff across the campus to their car, to a specific location, or to public transport, a rolling light upgrade program to ensure coverage for all main pathways and primary car parks, and a Closed Circuit Television (CCTV) system within the Callaghan Campus, which provides live and continuous footage through to a centrally-monitored facility.
We will work with our students, survivors and their networks, and our staff to end sexual assault and harassment on our university campuses. Enough is enough.