The Australian Human Rights Commission yesterday released its report titled ‘Change the Course: A National report on sexual assault and sexual harassment at Australian universities’ and the unnerving results mean we need to have a serious conversation with our university- student daughters and sons.
The Report was requested by 39 universities and looked into the experiences of around 30,000 students at those institutions on the nature, prevalence and reporting of sexual assault and sexual harassment.
Overall, the research found that around half of all university students surveyed were sexually harassed at least once in 2016, with seven per cent experiencing sexual assault at least once between 2015-2016.
These incidents were found to occur predominantly on campus or while travelling to or from university. Female students experienced sexual incidents up to three times more frequently than male and a significant amount knew the perpetrator in the situation. Most notably, a vast majority of students did not make a formal report or complaint.
The statistics are enough to knock the air out of your lungs.
How did we get to a situation where one in two surveyed students experienced ‘an unwelcome sexual advance, request for sexual favours or conduct of a sexual nature’ during a single year?
The report hit a personal note when it identified residential settings as a major factor in incidents.
I have lived and worked at a university residential college for the majority of my five years as a student, providing pastoral care to students and having personally responded to critical incidents of a sexual nature.
The most difficult thing as a student, particularly one living at college, is the feeling of isolation and complete independence. In first year especially, it’s difficult to establish relationships where issues of sex, relationships and harassment can be honestly spoken about.