Monday 26 February 2018

As students and staff around Australia return to university, Sex Discrimination Commissioner Kate Jenkins is urging Australian universities to continue the work needed to prevent sexual harassment and sexual assaults on campus.

“Since the release of the landmark Change the course: National report on sexual assault and sexual harassment at Australian universities, myself and my team have met with Vice Chancellors, university staff and students around the country.

“We remain committed to working with universities, and also residential colleges, to assist in any way we can with the implementation of the recommendations,” said Commissioner Jenkins.

The Change the course report released last August found one in five (21%) students reported experiencing sexual harassment in a university setting in 2016 and 1.6% of students reported experiencing sexual assault in a university setting on at least one occasion in 2015 or 2016.

“I am encouraged that all 39 universities have accepted the majority of the Commission’s recommendations made in the Change the Course report and that 32 universities have explicitly accepted all nine recommendations. However it’s clear there is still a long way to go.”

Commissioner Jenkins said she is deeply concerned about recent media reports of appalling behavior at some residential colleges.

The Change the course report found that college students were disproportionately more likely than other students to have experienced sexual assault or sexual harassment at university in 2015 or 2016. Written submissions received described disturbing hazing practices and traditions within residential colleges.  

“It is not a cliché to say that these students are the future of this country. We must be proactive in changing the disturbing and unacceptable attitudes and behaviours that are being reported.

“Although the majority of universities have accepted the Commission’s recommendations, it is disappointing that only nine universities have reported taking steps to review factors that contribute to sexual assault and sexual harassment in their residential colleges and university residences.

“All universities have committed to conducting the student survey again in 3 years’ time, so they need to act quickly to ensure they are effecting real change that will impact on the lived experiences of their students.

“As Sex Discrimination Commissioner, I am determined to hold universities to account on behalf of the students and survivors who shared their stories with us for Change the course,” she said.

You can find out more about the steps universities have taken in response to the Change the course report here;