Executive summary

At the request of Australia’s 39 universities, the Australian Human Rights Commission has conducted a national, independent survey of university students to gain greater insight into the nature, prevalence and reporting of sexual assault and sexual harassment at Australian universities.

The National university student survey on sexual assault and sexual harassment (the National Survey) also examined the effectiveness of university services and policies that address sexual assault and sexual harassment on campus.

The request to conduct this survey follows decades of advocacy on the topic of sexual assault and sexual harassment at universities both within Australia and overseas. The National Survey is the first of its kind and the first attempt to examine in detail the scale and the nature of the problem in Australia.

This work builds on the Commission’s extensive experience leading projects of this nature, including the Review into the Treatment of Women in the Australian Defence Force and conducting national workplace sexual harassment surveys for the past 12 years.
The National Survey measured the experiences of over 30,000 students across all 39 universities and collected information about:

  • prevalence of sexual assault and sexual harassment among Australian university students in 2015 and 2016
  • characteristics of people who experienced sexual assault and sexual  harassment
  • characteristics of perpetrators of sexual assault and sexual  harassment
  • settings where students experienced sexual assault and sexual harassment at university
  • reporting of sexual assault and sexual harassment, and
  • students’ recommendations for  change.

In addition to the quantitative data gathered via the National Survey, a vast amount of qualitative data was gathered through written submissions. The Commission accepted written submissions from 23 August 2016 to 2 December 2016 and received 1849 submissions in total.

This report outlines the findings of the National Survey, provides an analysis of the qualitative information received through the submissions, and makes recommendations for areas of action and reform.

Prevalence of sexual assault and sexual harassment

Overall, the survey results paint a concerning picture of the nature and prevalence of sexual assault and sexual harassment experienced by Australian university students.

Around half of all university students (51%) were sexually harassed on at least one occasion in 2016, and 6.9% of students were sexually assaulted on at least one occasion in 2015 or 2016. A significant proportion of the sexual harassment experienced by students in 2015 and 2016 occurred in university settings.

For the purposes of the National Survey, incidents which occurred in ‘university settings’ included sexual assault and sexual harassment that occurred:

  • on the university campus
  • while travelling to or from university
  • at an off-campus event organised by or endorsed by the university, and
  • at university employment.

Experiences of technology-based harassment were included where some or all of the perpetrators were students, teachers or other people associated with the university.

In total, 26% of students were sexually harassed in a university setting in 2016. As described above, ‘university settings’ include incidents that occurred while travelling to or from university. Although travel to or from university is not strictly within the control of universities, it is nonetheless an important part of students’ university experience.

When incidents of sexual harassment which occurred while travelling to or from university are excluded, the Commission found that 21% of students were sexually harassed in a university setting in 2016.

1.6% of students reported being sexually assaulted in a university setting (including while travelling to or from university) in 2015 or 2016.1

It is clear from the survey that women experience sexual assault and sexual harassment at disproportionately higher   rates than men: they were almost twice as likely to be harassed in 2016 and more than three times as likely to be sexually assaulted in 2015 or 2016.
Overwhelmingly, men were the perpetrators of both sexual assault and sexual harassment reported in the survey.

A significant proportion of students who were sexually assaulted or sexually harassed knew the perpetrator, who was    most likely to be a fellow student from their university. Postgraduate students were almost twice as likely as undergraduate students to have been sexually harassed by a lecturer or tutor from their  university.

The National Survey results add to the body of evidence that highlights the disturbing levels of sexual violence and violence against women in Australia.

Although no directly comparable data is available, the prevalence and nature of sexual assault and sexual harassment in a university setting largely corresponds with what is already known about the prevalence and nature of sexual violence in the broader Australian community.

Existing research indicates that women aged between 18 and 24 experience sexual assault and sexual harassment at disproportionate rates. Since the age of 15, one in five women, and one in 22 men in Australia have experienced sexual violence.2 Young women aged between 18 and 24 – the age group of a significant cohort of university students – experience sexual violence at over twice the national rate. 3 18 to 24 year old women are also more likely than men in this age group to have experienced sexual harassment in the workplace.4

Sexual assault and sexual harassment in university settings

The results of the National Survey provide a detailed understanding of where sexual assault and sexual harassment is likely to occur in a university setting.

The National Survey results indicate that sexual assault and sexual harassment are occurring to varying degrees across most areas of university life. Almost a third of the incidents of sexual harassment reported in the survey as happening in a university setting occurred on university grounds or in teaching spaces, while one in five of those who were sexually assaulted said that this occurred at a university or residence social event. Colleges were a particular area of concern, with women four times as likely as men to have been sexually assaulted in this setting.

The findings are supported by students’ first hand experiences of sexual assault and sexual harassment the Commission received in the submissions process. This information provides an evidence base for prioritising university responses to sexual assault and sexual harassment, and the Commission’s recommendations for action and reform contained in this report.

Responses to sexual assault and sexual harassment

Our research also revealed that a vast majority of students who were sexually assaulted or sexually harassed in 2015 and 2016 did not make a formal report or complaint to their university.

Common reasons for this were that students who were sexually assaulted or sexually harassed did not believe their experience was serious enough to warrant making a report or that they did not know how or where to make a report. Students were also unlikely to seek support or advice in relation to their experience of sexual assault or harassment, either from within their university or from external support sources.

It is clear from the results of the survey that students face a range of barriers, both structural and attitudinal, to reporting or seeking support following sexual assault or sexual harassment. In addition, students who did report were often unsatisfied with the response of their university.

The survey results indicated that only 6% of students thought that their university was currently doing enough to provide and promote clear and accessible information on sexual harassment procedures, policies and support services, and only 4% thought this was the case in relation to sexual assault.

These results are a cause for concern for a number of reasons. Firstly, the underreporting of sexual assault and sexual harassment makes it difficult for universities to shape appropriate responses. Secondly, it suggests that universities do not have clear pathways and policies for reporting sexual assault and sexual harassment, and do not foster an environment where reporting is encouraged.

The National Survey demonstrates that more work is needed to not only improve universities’ response to sexual assault and sexual harassment when it occurs, but also to increase the students’ awareness of available responses.

This report recommends the commissioning of an independent, systematic review of universities’ policies in responding to sexual assault and sexual harassment to assess their effectiveness.

Contributing factors to sexual assault and sexual harassment

The qualitative information received through submissions highlighted a number of recurring themes in incidents of sexual assault and sexual harassment that occurred in university settings.

  • Attitudes towards women: The submissions were indicative of some of the underlying attitudes towards women, gender roles, relationships and sex which contribute to sexual assault and sexual harassment at university.
  • Alcohol: Alcohol was often identified as a factor that contributed to people’s experiences of sexual assault and sexual harassment. The Commission received a number of submissions that reported sexual assault while the person being assaulted was unconscious or severely impaired due to the influence of alcohol.
  • Perpetrator abusing a position of power: A common theme was perpetrators abusing their position of power to create situations where they were able to sexually assault or sexually harass. Staff engaging in this behaviour towards students is an obvious area of concern, however submissions also identified instances of senior students in leadership positions sexually assaulting or sexually harassing other students in clubs and societies, at Uni Games, on orientation camps and within residential  colleges.
  • Residential settings: Easy access to bedrooms, whether in a residential college, private home, on a university camp or overseas trip, provides perpetrators with a space in which to commit sexual assault or sexual harassment.

    Recommendations

    Australian universities provide education, pastoral care, recreational opportunities and employment to a cohort of students at increased risk of experiencing sexual assault and sexual harassment. This means that universities are in a unique position to prevent and respond to sexual assault and sexual harassment.

    The results of the National Survey provide insight into the areas of university life where sexual assault and sexual harassment are more prevalent, the contributing factors to these behaviours, and the effectiveness of current responses to sexual assault and sexual harassment.

    The information contained in this report is a call to action for universities to address these factors and ensure that they are providing students with a safe, supportive learning environment that does not tolerate sexual assault or sexual harassment. It is also an opportunity for universities to create an institution-wide culture based on inclusiveness, gender equality, respectful behaviour  and accountability.

    Our findings and recommendations provide a clear pathway to ensuring that the fundamental rights of every student to access and enjoy their education free from the fear of sexual assault or sexual harassment are upheld and protected.

    The Commission has made a total of nine recommendations, eight of which are directed to universities and one aimed at university colleges. These recommendations focus on five areas of action:

    1. Leadership and governance: A strong and visible commitment to action from university leaders, accompanied by clear and transparent implementation of these  recommendations.
    2. Changing attitudes and behaviours: Development of measures aimed at preventing sexual assault and sexual harassment.
    3. University responses to sexual assault and sexual harassment: An independent, systematic review of university responses to sexual assault and sexual harassment and their effectiveness and the implementation of effective processes for responding to sexual assault and sexual harassment.
    4. Monitoring and evaluation: Ensuring that steps taken to prevent and respond to sexual assault and sexual harassment are evidence-based and that improvements are made over time.
    5. Residential colleges and university residences: A review to further examine issues and solutions to address sexual assault and sexual harassment within residential colleges and university residences.

     

    Key findings

    Prevalence of sexual harassment

    The results of the National Survey reveal that students’ gender, sexual orientation, culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander status, disability status and age may impact on their experience of sexual harassment.

    The results of the National Survey reflect existing research about the prevalence of sexual harassment in Australia more broadly, which indicates that women aged 18 to 24 experience higher rates of sexual harassment in the workplace than any other age group.5

    The National Survey shows:

    • 51% of students were sexually harassed on at least one occasion in  2016.
    • 21% of students were sexually harassed in one of the following university settings: on campus, at an off-campus event organised by or endorsed by the university, at university employment or, for technology-based harassment, where some or all of the perpetrators were students, teachers or other people associated with the university.
    • 26% of students were sexually harassed in one of the above university settings and/or while travelling to or from university in 2016.
    • Women were almost twice as likely as men to have been sexually harassed in a university setting in 2016.
    • 44% of students who identified as bisexual and 38% of students who identified as gay, lesbian or homosexual were sexually harassed in a university setting in 2016, compared with 23% of students who identified as heterosexual.
    • Trans and gender diverse students (45%) were more likely to have been sexually harassed in a university setting in 2016 than women and men.
    • Domestic students (27%) were slightly more likely than international students (22%) to have been sexually harassed in a university setting in 2016.
    • Though sample sizes were small, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students and students with disability were more likely to have been sexually harassed in 2016 than non-Indigenous students and students without disability.
    • Undergraduate students (28%) were more likely than postgraduates (19%) to have been sexually harassed in a university setting in 2016.

    Prevalence of sexual assault

    Overall, the prevalence of sexual assault among university students is concerning and reflects existing research about rates of sexual assault in the Australian community more broadly, where young women between the age of 18 and 24 experience sexual assault at twice the national rate.

    As with sexual harassment, gender and other characteristics such as sexual orientation, gender, culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander status, disability status and age can impact on an individual’s experiences of sexual assault at university.

    • Overall, 6.9% of students were sexually assaulted on at least one occasion in 2015 or 2016, with 1.6% reporting that the sexual assault occurred in a university setting.
    • Women (10%) were more than three times as likely as men (2.9%) to have been sexually assaulted in 2015 or 2016.
    • Women were also more likely than men to have been sexually assaulted in a university setting in 2015 or 2016 (2.3% compared with 0.7% for  men).
    • Students who identified as bisexual (3.8%) were also more likely than those who identified as heterosexual (1.5%) or gay/lesbian/homosexual (1.4%) to have been sexually assaulted in a university setting in 2015 or 2016.
    • Though sample sizes were small, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students and students with disability were more likely to have been sexually assaulted in 2015 or 2016 than non-Indigenous students and students without disability.

    The perpetrators of sexual assault and sexual harassment

    The majority of perpetrators of most recent incidents of sexual assault or sexual harassment in a university setting were male, and in approximately half of these incidents, were known to the victim.

    The National Survey results indicate that university students may be at greater risk of being sexually assaulted or sexually harassed by a person not previously known to them than the broader Australian community.6

    However, a significant proportion of both sexual assault and sexual harassment was perpetrated by a person known to  the victim. This highlights the need for universities to take measures to prevent sexual assault and sexual harassment and to ensure they respond appropriately to support victims and hold perpetrators accountable in situations where both are associated with the same university and are likely to attend the same campus, classes, or social events.

    • Almost half (45%) of students who were sexually harassed in a university setting knew some or all of the perpetrators of the most recent incident.
    • The majority (51%) of students who were sexually assaulted in a university setting knew some or all of the perpetrators of the most recent  incident.
    • The majority of students who were sexually assaulted or sexually harassed in a university setting in 2015 or 2016 said that the perpetrator of the most recent incident was male (71% for sexual harassment and 83% for sexual assault).
    • Among those who had been sexually harassed in a university setting by someone they knew, more than two thirds (68%) said that the perpetrator(s) of the most recent incident was a student from their university.
    • Among those who had been sexually assaulted in a university setting by someone they knew, over half (57%) said that the perpetrator(s) of the most recent incident was a student from their university.

    Settings in which sexual harassment occurred

    The most common setting in which most recent incidents of sexual harassment occurred in 2015 or 2016 was on public transport to or from university. One in five students also experienced technology-based sexual harassment in 2016, although not necessarily in a way connected with their university.

    While both public transport and the use of technology such as email and social media by students and staff are beyond universities’ direct control, these findings highlight the importance of prevention activities by universities, especially where the perpetrator of sexual harassment is another university student or staff member.

    • Students who were sexually harassed in a university setting in 2015 or 2016 were most likely to have experienced the most recent incident of sexual harassment on public transport on the way to or from university (22%), on university grounds (14%) or in a university teaching space (13%).
    • Of most recent incidents of sexual harassment which occurred on public transport, 57% of perpetrators were students from their university. Men were most commonly sexually harassed in university teaching spaces (17%). In relation to the most recent incident, women (25%) were more likely than men (13%) to have been sexually harassed on public transport to or from the university.
    • More than one in five (22%) students experienced technology-based sexual harassment in 2016, including repeated or inappropriate advances on email, social networking websites and internet chat rooms and sexually explicit emails or SMS messages.

    Settings in which sexual assault occurred

    Most recent incidents of sexual assault in a university setting most commonly occurred at a university or residence social event. While men were more likely to be sexually assaulted at a university or residence social event, women were significantly more likely to have experienced sexual assault at a residential college or university residence.

    These findings, coupled with the information received from the submissions process, provide a more detailed understanding   of the university settings that carry an increased risk of sexual assault, and the underpinning factors which contribute to these behaviours. Further work recommended by the Commission will assist in shaping prevention and response activities within universities and residential colleges.

    • Students who were sexually assaulted in a university setting in 2015 or 2016 were most likely to have experienced the most recent incident at a university or residence social event (21%), on public transport to or from university (15%), on university grounds (10%) or at a residential college or university residence (10%).
    • Men (29%) were more likely than women (20%) to have experienced the most recent incident of sexual assault at a university or residence social event.
    • Women (12%) were significantly more likely than men (3%) to have been sexually assaulted at a residential college or university residence in the most recent incident.

    Bystander responses to sexual assault and sexual harassment

    A majority of students who had witnessed an incident of sexual assault or sexual harassment failed to take any action in response. This highlights the need for universities to provide appropriate bystander education to equip students to take appropriate action when witnessing an incident of sexual assault or sexual harassment.

    • One in four (25%) students witnessed another student being sexually harassed in a university setting in  2016.
    • 1.1% of students witnessed another student being sexually assaulted in a university setting in 2016.
    • Students who witnessed other students being sexually assaulted or sexually harassed in a university setting usually did not take any action in response.
      • » 21% of people who saw another student being sexually harassed in 2016 took action in response to the incident.
      • » 37% of people who saw another student being sexually assaulted in 2016 took action in response to the incident.
    • The most common reasons bystanders did not take any action were that they did not think it was serious enough to intervene or that they did not know what to do.

    Reporting and seeking support following sexual assault or sexual harassment

    An overwhelming majority of students who were sexually assaulted or sexually harassed in a university setting did not report the most recent incident to their university or seek support or assistance from their university. The reasons for not reporting were varied, and ranged from the victims not considering the incident serious enough to report, to not knowing where to formally report an incident.

    Creating a safe, supportive environment that encourages the reporting of sexual assault and sexual harassment is the first step to ensuring appropriate processes are in place for victim support and perpetrator accountability. An environment    that encourages reporting and provides clear and accessible information on available support services forms a part of an organisational culture that does not tolerate sexual assault and sexual harassment.

    • Of students who were sexually harassed in a university setting, 94% did not make a formal report or complaint to anyone at the university and 92% did not seek support or assistance from their university in relation to the most recent incident.
    • Of students who were sexually assaulted in a university setting, 87% did not make a formal report or complaint to anyone at the university and 79% did not seek support or assistance from their university following the most recent incident.
    • 18% of students who were sexually harassed and 36% of students who were sexually assaulted sought support from outside the university in relation to the most recent incident.
    • 68% of students who experienced sexual harassment in a university setting did not make a formal report or complaint about the most recent incident because they did not think their experience was serious enough, while 53% did not think they needed  help.
    • 40% of students who experienced sexual assault in a university setting did not report the most recent incident because they did not think it was serious enough, while another 40% felt they did not need any help.
    • The majority of students had little or no knowledge about where they could go to formally report or make a complaint about an experience of sexual harassment (60% of students) or sexual assault (62%).

    Recommendations

    In response to the National Survey results and the qualitative information received from submissions, the Commission has made nine recommendations for reform and further work to improve the prevention of and response to sexual assault and sexual harassment in Australian universities.

    The recommendations focus on five areas of action: leadership and governance; changing attitudes and behaviours; university responses to sexual assault and sexual harassment; monitoring and evaluation; and residential colleges and university residences.

    Leadership and governance

    This report identifies that sexual assault and sexual harassment, while more prevalent in certain settings, are occurring to some degree in most areas of university life.

    It is evident that improved measures for preventing and responding to sexual assault and sexual harassment are necessary, and the recommendations detailed below are designed to assist universities’ to address prevention and response.

    As with the implementation of any significant reform, leadership and organisational support play a crucial role. The Commission’s first recommendation therefore, focuses on establishing the required governance structures and ensuring the leadership of Vice-Chancellors for a timely and comprehensive implementation of these recommendations.

    There are core principles which should underpin universities’ approach to addressing sexual assault and sexual harassment. It is important that action:

    • is led by Vice-Chancellors
    • engages all levels of the university (including students)
    • is transparent, and
    • is based on evidence and expertise.

    Recommendation 1

    Vice-Chancellors should take direct responsibility for the implementation of these recommendations, including decision-making and monitoring and evaluation of actions taken.

    To assist and advise them in this respect, Vice-Chancellors should have an advisory body within their institution which has responsibility for guiding the implementation of the recommendations made in this report.

    The advisory body should report directly to the Vice-Chancellor of each university and include representatives from:

    • the university’s senior leadership
    • the student body
    • academic staff
    • residential colleges affiliated with the university
    • student services, such as: counselling services, medical services and campus security, and
    • frontline sexual assault services.

    The advisory body should be responsible for developing an action plan for the implementation of these recommendations.

    The development of an action plan should involve broad and extensive consultation with all relevant stakeholders from the university community and, where relevant, the wider community. The advisory body should also seek independent expertise where relevant and draw on existing research and best  practice.

    The advisory body should assess and publicly report on the university’s progress towards implementation of these recommendations within 18 months of the release of this report. From then on, public reporting on progress should occur on an annual basis.

    Changing attitudes and behaviours

    Women experience disproportionately high rates of sexual assault and sexual harassment. Research indicates that sexual assault and sexual harassment are often driven by deeply held norms and attitudes about women, their role in society and relationships between men and women.

    Universities have an opportunity to prevent sexual assault and sexual harassment from occurring by addressing their underlying causes. Actions addressing attitudes and norms about gender roles and relationships are integral to preventing sexual assault and sexual harassment, and reducing the prevalence of these behaviours over the long term.

    Recommendation 2

    Universities develop a plan for addressing the drivers of sexual assault and sexual harassment that:

    • provides students and staff with education about: behaviours that constitute sexual assault and sexual harassment, consent and respectful relationships, ‘violence supportive attitudes’ and bystander intervention, and
    • identifies existing resources and communications campaigns that reinforce key messages of education programs for dissemination to staff and  students.

    Education programs and communications  should:

    • target all levels of the organisation – current and future students, staff, residential colleges, public transport to/ from university, sports clubs, student societies and student unions
    • be based on best practice and research
    • be developed and delivered by individuals and/or organisations with expertise in sexual violence prevention
    • be developed in consultation with university students, and
    • include measures for evaluating and refining the actions taken.

    University responses to sexual assault and sexual harassment

    The National Survey indicates that very few students who experienced sexual assault or sexual harassment in a university setting reported the incident either externally or to their university. Only 2% of students who experienced sexual harassment and 9% of students who experienced sexual assault in a university setting in 2015 or 2016 said that they had made a formal report or complaint to the  university.

    A greater number of people had disclosed the incident or sought support and assistance from family, friends or a university staff member, however the overwhelming majority did not seek any form of formal or professional support or advice from their university or externally.

    The National Survey also highlighted that the majority of students had little or no knowledge about where they could go to formally report or make a complaint about an experience of sexual harassment. It is critical that students and staff are aware of the university’s reporting policies and processes and available support services. Therefore, the Commission recommends that universities take action to ensure information about reporting avenues and support services is widely disseminated and easily accessible.

    Recommendation 3

    In order to ensure students and staff know about support services and reporting processes for sexual assault or sexual harassment, universities should:

    • widely disseminate information about university reporting avenues to staff and students
    • widely disseminate information about internal and external services to staff and students, including: university counselling and medical services, campus security, local sexual assault services, police, medical centres, hospitals, counselling services and anti-discrimination  agencies
    • ensure that information about internal and external reporting procedures and support services is displayed clearly, in a logical place(s) on the university website
    • ensure that information about internal and external reporting procedures and support services is provided to students as part of their orientation into university and to new staff as part of their human resources induction/ on-boarding
    • ensure that information about internal and external reporting procedures and support services is accessible to all students and staff, including: people with disability, people from CALD backgrounds, and
    • develop relationships with external services (local sexual assault service, local hospital) to enable referral of students to these services where necessary.

    Universities should evaluate the activities undertaken to increase awareness of support services and reporting processes to ensure that these measures have been effective in increasing awareness among staff and students.

    University policies and procedures for responding to reports and disclosures of sexual assault and sexual harassment should be supportive of the person who has experienced the sexual assault or sexual harassment, respect their rights and those of the perpetrator, and ensure a trauma-informed, fair process and perpetrator accountability. An appropriate response is critically important, particularly in cases where both are students at the same university and may attend the same campus, classes or social events.

    The Commission recommends further work is required to gain a comprehensive understanding of the way in which universities respond to sexual assault and sexual harassment and the effectiveness of those responses.

    In addition, universities must take steps to ensure that students who experience sexual assault or sexual harassment have access to specialist support, from a service provider with the required expertise and training in this area.

    Recommendation 4

    In order to ensure that actions taken by universities to prevent and respond to sexual assault and sexual harassment are appropriate, within a year of the release of this report, universities should commission an independent, expert-  led review of existing university policies and response pathways in relation to sexual assault and sexual harassment. This review should assess the effectiveness of existing university policies and pathways and make specific recommendations to universities about best practice responses to sexual assault and sexual harassment.

    In the interim, and at an institutional level, universities should draw on sexual violence counselling expertise to develop and review processes for responding to sexual assault and sexual harassment of students to ensure that they:

    • secure the immediate safety and wellbeing of the individual who has experienced the sexual assault or sexual harassment
    • are clear and accessible
    • provide individuals with control over what happens to their report
    • have the flexibility to suit individual  circumstances
    • provide students with support to continue with their studies
    • provide specialist support, from someone who has specialist expertise and training in sexual assault, sexual harassment and trauma counselling of sexual assault survivors, and
    • accommodate the needs of students from a diverse range of backgrounds.

    A fundamental element of an effective response to sexual violence is ensuring that those receiving reports and disclosures of sexual assault and sexual harassment are appropriately trained and know how to respond.

    In submissions, students who did report or seek support from their university in relation to sexual assault or sexual harassment often identified a lack of training among university staff and students in dealing with disclosures of sexual violence.

    The information received by the Commission also indicated that many students disclosed their experiences to a trusted member of staff, such as a lecturer, or a student representative, such as their university women’s officer. These individuals are often not trained to provide support to victims of sexual assault and sexual harassment, and may experience vicarious trauma as a result of being exposed to the traumatic experiences of others.

    Training is therefore important to ensure that those individuals who are likely to receive disclosures of sexual assault and sexual harassment are able to respond in an effective, supportive way and to recognise and take appropriate action in response to vicarious trauma. This training should be provided by an external service provider with expertise in the areas of sexual assault and sexual harassment.

    Recommendation 5

    Universities should conduct an assessment to identify staff members and student representatives within their institution most likely to receive disclosures of sexual assault and sexual harassment.

    Universities should ensure that these staff members and student representatives receive training in responding to disclosures of sexual assault and sexual harassment, delivered by an organisation with specialist expertise in this area.

    Monitoring and evaluation

    The actions universities take to prevent and respond to sexual assault and sexual harassment should be evidence-based and evaluated.

    It is recommended that universities collect their own data about reports and disclosures of sexual assault and sexual harassment, in order to track the effectiveness and appropriateness of their responses to sexual assault and sexual harassment over time.

    Universities should also continue to obtain independent data about rates of sexual assault and sexual harassment at their institution. Collecting this information periodically will enable universities to measure the effectiveness of the steps they take to address these behaviours.

    A commitment to obtaining independent data about sexual assault and sexual harassment may also improve public confidence in universities’ commitment to positive change. Maintaining and increasing public confidence in universities as safe and supportive learning environments and communities is important and may encourage those who experience sexual assault and sexual harassment to come forward and report to, or seek support from, their institution.

    Recommendation 6

    Universities should ensure that information about individual disclosures and reports of sexual assault and sexual harassment is collected and stored confidentially and used for continuous improvement of processes, including:

    • details of the complaint/incident
    • steps taken to respond to the complaint/incident, i.e.: whether the individual reported to police, whether the perpetrator was moved to a different lecture/tutorial
    • support or assistance received, i.e.: whether the person received counselling from university services, whether they reported to police, whether they received support from an external sexual assault service
    • time taken to respond to the report and/or refer the person to support services, and
    • any feedback provided by the complainant/respondent in relation to the process.

    Access to this information should be limited to staff members with responsibility for responding to disclosures and reports and those responsible for improving university responses to disclosures and reports.

    On a regular basis – at least every six months – Vice-Chancellors should be provided with de-identified reports of this data, including any trends or identifiable concerns which arise, along with recommendations for any necessary improvements  to processes.

    Recommendation 7

    Within six months of this report, but as soon as possible, universities should conduct an audit of university counselling services to assess:

    • the capacity of university counselling services to respond to students’ requests for counselling in an appropriately timely manner, and
    • how many university counselling staff have received training in working with sexual assault survivors.

    As part of this audit, universities should collect data on:

    • the average length of time students are required to wait to see a university counsellor, and
    • the number of urgent/crisis requests for counselling  received.

    This data should be assessed to determine whether additional counselling services are required to meet the urgent needs of students who have experienced sexual assault or harassment.

    If additional counselling services are required, universities should ensure that these additional resources are in place as soon as practicable.

    Recommendation 8

    Universities should engage an independent body to conduct the National university student survey of sexual assault and sexual harassment at three yearly intervals to track progress in reducing the prevalence of these incidents at a sector- wide level.

    Residential colleges and university residences

    While the style and mode of social and academic life vary considerably within and between universities, residential colleges play a significant role in shaping the university experience, as well as the attitudes and behaviours, of the students who reside there. University-affiliated residential halls and colleges present a unique environment in which young people, generally aged between 17 and 24, live, work, study and socialise within close proximity to each other and away from parents and family, typically for the first time.

    Colleges and university residences have a duty of care to their students, and students have a reasonable expectation that their college will provide them with a safe and supportive environment.

    The results of the National Survey, which indicate a relatively high prevalence rate of sexual assault and sexual harassment within residential colleges and university residences, suggest that more needs to be done to provide the safest possible environment for students living in residential colleges and university residences.

    A large number of submissions received by the Commission also related to residential colleges and university residences, providing rich qualitative information on many aspects of residential college and university residence culture and practice which are cause for concern, and in the Commission’s view, warrant further investigation.

    Recommendation 9

    In addition to considering the implementation of the university recommendations made in this report, residential colleges and university residences should commission an independent, expert-led review of the factors which contribute to sexual assault and sexual harassment in their settings.
    This review should consider:

    • appropriate responses by a college or university residence to reports of sexual assault and sexual harassment
    • a trauma-informed and rights-based approach in a situation in which an allegation of sexual assault has been made
    • the ways that hazing practices and college ‘traditions’ facilitate a culture which may increase the likelihood of sexual violence
    • the role of alcohol in facilitating a culture which may increase the likelihood of sexual violence
    • the level and nature of supervision in a twenty-four hour residential setting in which large numbers of young people are living away from home, and

    the level and adequacy of training required to equip residential advisors to serve as first responders or in response to matters of sexual assault and harassment.