Rape claims at universities covered up, taken less seriously than plagiarism, advocacy group says.

By Danuta Kozaki

With thousands of new students starting university this week, an advocacy group has claimed violence against women is still a major problem on campuses, and assault claims are being covered up.

The advocacy group End Rape on Campus Australia has made a submission to the Human Rights Commission which will bring down a report on the issue later this year.

Founder and director of the group, Sharna Bremner, said the submission showed the situation was dire.

“We have definitely worked with some students whose universities have tried to cover up their assaults, have tried to silence them,” she said.

“Those sorts of things are happening on a much more regular basis I think than any of us expected.

“We have had a number of staff from universities advise us these sorts of things are going on too.”

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Ms Bremner said Freedom of Information requests made to both universities and police organisations showed had been 500 official complaints over the past five years.

“145 of those related specifically to rape, the others were various forms of sexual assault and harassment,” she said.

“There were only six expulsions due to these 500 official complaints.”

Plagiarism taken ‘more seriously than rape’

The president of the University of Sydney’s Student Representative Council, Isabella Brook, said universities were failing students, especially women.

“Universities are taking academic misconduct such as plagiarism much more seriously than rape,” she said.

“It is really disappointing they are not supporting survivors. It seems to be about avoiding bad publicity.”

Ms Brook said last year there were a lot of revelations regarding residential colleges at the University of Sydney, with many women talking about their sexual assault and harassment experiences and campaigning for change.

“We have had some great campaigns over the past year demanding action over sexual assault on campus, including a proper reporting system and increased support for women affected.

“We constantly have students telling us that the support is not in place when they experience issues of sexual assault on campus, we find it quite prevalent with female students and international students.”

‘The culture on campus has to change’

The president of the National Tertiary Education Union, Jeannie Rea, said universities have had years to deal with the issue of sexual assaults on campuses.

“As long as this continues, women of all ages, including staff, are wary about travelling on campus after hours,” she said.

“In the residences, women are being given advice about how they have to be careful and it is the old idea that the onus is on the women.

“The universities clearly need to be dealing with prevention issues, including the attitudes of men on campus.

“The culture on campus has to change. It is shocking it has not improved over time.

“They are even scared to come forward as it might affect their standing in the university and all the pressure of it sees some young women dropping out of their studies.”

Universities deny cover-up claims

The chief executive of Universities Australia, Belinda Robinson, rejected claims of a cover up.

“Last year we commissioned the Human Rights Commission to do a survey, with the report due later this year,” she said.

“That is exactly why the sector has come together a year ago to initiate ‘Respect. Now. Always’ to look at what options there are available.”

That campaign was launched last year by Deputy Labor Leader, Tanya Plibersek, as a joint effort between Universities Australia and the Australian Human Rights Commission.

Ms Robinson said under-reporting of assaults was also an issue.

“These are awful and tragic stories. In some cases, survivors are reluctant or unwilling to report these cases.

“We want students to feel reassured that universities are safe places, which they are by and large.

“Universities are reviewing their policies, and it is important these issues are discussed around the universities’ orientation weeks.”

This post originally appeared on ABC News.


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