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Let me begin by acknowledging the Gadigal people of the Eora nation, on whose lands we meet, and pay my respects to Elders past and present.

Today I speak on behalf of university leaders across Australia.

We began the Respect. Now. Always. campaign over a year ago to respond to calls to more actively combat sexual harassment and sexual assault in universities - and to help build more respectful and safer communities.

At our request, the Australian Human Rights Commission surveyed our students so we could better understand what we needed to do. 

Thousands of students answered. Thank you for responding.

You shared your experiences. 

Some of you shared deeply personal stories of trauma and pain.

So, before I say anything else today, I want to speak directly to the survivors of sexual assault in student communities. 

To each of you, I say this.

We are sorry this happened to you.

Sexual assault is a crime. 

The person who sexually assaulted you had no right to do what they did.

It is not your fault.

Through your stories, you call on us – and every fellow student and member of staff – to do more to prevent others from ever experiencing the damage and the shattering of confidence and trust inflicted by the person who sexually assaulted you.

We cannot take away the pain that you have felt - but we acknowledge it. 

And we can respond to that pain with compassion and care. 

It has taken courage to tell your stories. Thank you for telling us what happened to you.

We are listening. And we will act.

We are determined to lead further change in our university student communities and in our society.

We want to work with our students and staff to demand respectful and responsible behaviour in university communities, and in the wider society. 

We want universities to be places that work, strongly and actively, to prevent sexual assault and sexual harassment.

Each of us has a role in this. Students, staff, and university leaders are together crucial to prevent sexual assault and sexual harassment. 

We urge all in our community to report criminal or unacceptable behaviour.

And, by making reporting more likely, we will ensure these behaviours are less likely.

Our universities must be places of safety and respect. 

This report, released by the Australian Human Rights Commission today, demands our careful attention.

Leaders from all 39 universities asked the Commission to gather this information from our students because we wanted to know what is happening to them. Both on campus, and beyond it.

So we could act informed by evidence.

We are making public not only the national results but also our individual university data from this survey. 

And we ask that the findings of all reports be used sensitively, in a way that is mindful of its impact on survivors. 

We pledged to share these reports with our university communities to guide further action.

So, around Australia today, university leaders are meeting with students and staff, to discuss the information with them.

We will analyse this report in greater depth in coming days and weeks. 

But already we know that more work is required. 

Over the past year, while the Commission undertook its research, universities have had many conversations with survivors, students, sexual violence prevention experts, and counsellors. 

Today we commit to a 10-point action plan to respond strongly and swiftly to these findings. 

This is a set of further major initiatives that our 39 universities, through our peak body, Universities Australia, will undertake and fund as part of our Respect. Now. Always. campaign.

The first of these major commitments, announced last week, is a new interim round-the-clock specialist support line for student victims and survivors. We know that for some today will be very difficult as they recall past trauma.

If any student watching today needs help or support, specialist trauma counsellors who staff this line can be reached on 1800 572 224. That’s 1800 572 224.

We also commit to lead a new important prevention initiative.

Research by Our Watch shows us that more needs to be done to embed respectful relationships education at primary and secondary school level. We will build on those efforts at a university level.

We will develop a respectful relationships program specifically tailored for university students; one that is best practice because it is evidence-based. It will build on existing initiatives already in place at a number of universities.

First responder training will be made available more broadly across our universities, to equip more staff and students with the skills to respond appropriately when a survivor discloses.

New first-of-their-kind training modules are being designed for university leadership and staff in awareness and prevention of sexual assault and sexual harassment. 

And a new specialist training module for university counsellors will enhance and extend the skills of mental health clinicians to provide support to people affected by sexual assault and sexual harassment. 

We have begun work on developing a set of best practice university policy guidelines for reporting and dealing with misconduct. They will help to inform the review and development of sexual assault and sexual harassment guidelines across our sector. 

We are also working with our colleagues at the National Tertiary Education Union and the Council of Australian Postgraduate Associations to develop principles on interactions between supervisors and postgraduate research students.

But these are only the sector-wide actions. 

Today, on campuses across Australia, university leaders are briefing their students and staff on the results of the survey and are working with them on dozens of new and renewed local initiatives to prevent sexual assault and sexual harassment. 

As they do, I want to pay tribute to every person who has helped inspire and create improvements for the better over the past few decades. 

To defeat sexual assault, university leaders from right across the country stand united with their students and staff today. 

And, reflecting that, National Union of Students president Sophie Johnston, Sex Discrimination Commissioner Kate Jenkins and I are as one here today in our shared resolve.

Let me be clear. 

Sexual assault is a crime and sexual harassment is never okay. 

We are united in our determination to prevent them.

Universities Australia Media Contacts

Misha Schubert
02 6285 8133
Mobile: 0421 612 351

Bella Counihan
Ph: 02 6285 8123
Mobile: 0419 212 219 

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