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Respect. Prevent. Respond. 


Keynote speech delivered by Chief Executive Catriona Jackson to the Respect. Prevent. Respond. Conference at Deakin University on 6 February 2019.


I begin in the long traditions of our country. Today we meet on the traditional lands of the Wurundjeri people of the Kulin nations.

I pay my respects to your Elders and ancestors, who have lived and loved this country for tens of thousands of years.

And I honour any other Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Elders who are here today at this important gathering, and who work on these important issues.

Thank you for your leadership and commitment to this vital work.

*** When I was studying at university, the conversation about rape and sexual harassment was very different to the one happening now, right around the world.

A conversation not just on campuses – but right across societies.

In that era, discussions about sexual violence often centred on some key misconceptions — some of which have proven stubbornly persistent.

Fundamentally, conversations – and resulting policy — were based on the idea of the perpetrator as a stranger.

The stranger danger myth has been a powerful one — and has been hard to shake.

Of course, we know that this type of attack is not the most common.

Even so, the heartbreaking news of the rape and murder of Aiia Maasarwe’s and – a year before her – Eurydice Dixon as both walked home from a night out in Melbourne was a searing reminder that shocking attacks by someone unknown to the victim can still happen.

Yet we know from evidence, not only in Australia, but from around the world, that women are the most unsafe when they are in their own home.

Women are more likely to be sexually assaulted by their partner or former partner than by any other person.

We are more likely to experience physical violence from a partner or former partner than by any other person. It is heartbreaking – and maddening – that the place where a woman should feel most secure, most at ease, most safe, is the place where they are most at risk.

We know that one in five women will experience sexual violence in their lifetime. And women aged 18 to 24, who also happen to attend universities in large numbers, are most at risk.

Sexual violence – and violence against women more broadly – does not discriminate. It crosses race, culture, age and sexual preference. It can affect every domain of a victim’s life.

And some groups experience sexual violence and other types of violence at higher rates than others. Women from Aboriginal and Torres Strait


Islander communities, members of the LGBT community, and women with disabilities among them.

The voices of those most affected by this kind of violence are, rightly, being heard.

As the conversation continues to shift in Australia and around the world, the #MeToo movement has been a powerful catalyst.

It has highlighted the stories of women from right around the world who have experienced assault and harassment.

They have courageously told their stories to break down myths and raise awareness, and seek justice.

Hearing these stories has also helped to shift the conversations in backyards and boardrooms.

And it has been a powerful opportunity to help us to tackle myths and misconceptions, and squarely confront such violence wherever it occurs. Universities are a vital part of this conversation.


Experts in and beyond the sector, academics, community organisations, survivors, student advocates, and counselling and student-facing staff in universities, have all been critical in advancing this conversation.

Each of these important voices has made an important contribution to the progress we have made collectively – with more to come.

And each of you in this room, including many of the speakers and experts on the program, have made powerful contributions to this work.

I want to take this opportunity once again to acknowledge your work, to thank you for it, and to convey how honoured I am to be part of this work with you.

You do the work day in, day out that means we can move forward, we can improve things, we can reduce rates of sexual harassment and assault.



So, what is the solution to ending sexual violence and violence against women?

It’s gender equality.

It’s respect.

It’s better attitudes towards women.

It’s tackling preconceptions and myths.


And the work of shifting attitudes across the whole of society is a huge and complex task. Let’s not pretend anything else.

Let’s think about the nature of a campus community.


Each year, around 300,000 students graduate from university in this country – and another 300,000 people step on to a university campus for the first time as students.

And those 300,000 students are more diverse than many people might think. Young school leavers are in the minority — fewer than half of enrolments. Some are returning to study after years in the workforce, some are international students from hundreds of countries around the world. Some are undergraduates and some are postgraduates.

Some study online and some live on campus. Some are away from home for the first time in their lives, and some are bringing up their own families while juggling study and work.

This diversity means there are another 300,000 pre-formed attitudes, conceptions and ideas about consent, relationships and gender, coming in to university communities every single year.

Those attitudes can be deeply engrained and hard to shift.

Late last year, the results of the National Community Attitudes Towards Women survey were released.

While they showed some improvement in the last five years, there are some disturbing trends.

One in six people think non-consensual sex is justified if the woman had initiated intimacy.

Nearly one in two people think sexual assault allegations are ways of getting back at men. One in two – that’s half.

One in three people don’t know a woman is more likely to be sexually assaulted by a partner than someone they don’t know.


Universities, as education institutions and as leaders in the community, have an incredibly important role to play in the global conversation about sexual violence and other types of violence against women.

Universities shape people in the critical transitions from school to work, or into new careers.

They are also places where social norms can be shaped.

Our universities educate almost 1.4 million students a year and employ over 120,000 people.

We are places of work and study, and places where people live and play.

This conference shows that much work is being done not only within our sector, but in other university sectors around the world.

From restorative justice, to flipping the script, to continued student advocacy, we are all committed to the same goal – ending violence against women.


We are also resolute in our commitment to support victims and survivors.

That’s why, three years ago, 39 university leaders came together to discuss what further work could and should be done in this important sector of society.

The vision was that this next stage of work would be sustained, long-term and, uniquely, sector-wide.

The Respect. Now. Always. initiative brings all 39 major universities together to share resources and expertise, to learn from one other in good practice, and to speed the advances we can make.

Individually, universities had been working to address and prevent sexual assault and sexual harassment for decades. From counselling staff to student groups, many have worked at the local level to support survivors and lead important local conversations.


Many universities also have longstanding partnerships with their local rape and domestic violence services, education programs about consent, and continuously enhanced safety strategies.

What our 39 university leaders sought was a way to share expertise and experience across the sector, and to consolidate understanding and practice, to raise the bar together.

In 2016, over 30,000 of university students participated in Australia’s first ever representative survey on their experiences of sexual assault and sexual harassment.

The survey was conducted by the Australian Human Rights Commission and funded substantially by Universities Australia — my organisation — with support and on behalf of our 39 member universities.

The results, published by the Commission in the Change the Course report in 2017, were confronting.

It gave universities more detail on the experiences of students – both on and off campus.


And we are deeply grateful to the students and survivors who courageously shared their experiences.

The survey found most students who were assaulted or harassed did not tell their university, or police. Most didn’t know where to go in their university to get support.

The under-reporting of sexual assault and sexual harassment is a challenge right across society.

The National Community Attitudes Survey found nine in 10 sexual assaults were not reported to the police.

For universities, limited reporting makes it harder to ensure students get the support they need.

Overall, the survey and the thousands of stories it represented had a clear message: sexual assault and sexual harassment are occurring in student communities — as they are in broader society.

Having funded the survey, our universities added additional initiatives to those already in place.


In the following year, a further 800 major actions and initiatives were instigated by universities and students working together.

We have seen further improvements to lift visibility and access to support services, clearer policies and procedures, new support lines, greater access to specialist counselling for students and staff, more comprehensive training for first responders and bystanders, safety apps, upskilling for counsellors and new streamlined online reporting tools as well as major reviews of policies and procedures.

This doesn’t mean there isn’t more that can be done.

Our commitment is for the long-term.

When the survey findings were published, UA also launched a 10-Point Action Plan that outlined further ways in which the sector would enhance support, prevention and responses.

Last year, to that end, we launched two major new resources.

The first was a new set of guidelines to help Australian universities respond to students who report sexual assault and sexual harassment.


These were developed with insight and expertise from violence prevention and response experts, students and advocates.

The second was a set of principles to underpin supervisory relationships between academic supervisors and their research students.

The principles were developed jointly by Universities Australia, the National Tertiary Education Union, the Council of Australian Postgraduate Associations and the Australian Council of Graduate Research.

They were well received – setting out clearly that it is unacceptable to have a sexual or romantic relationship with a postgraduate student you are directly responsible for supervising.

Today, we announce the next step under the 10-Point Action Plan.

We will partner with Our Watch, the nation’s leading agency dedicated to preventing violence against women, and the Victorian Government, to develop a whole-of-institution approach to prevent gendered violence — the Respect and Equality Program.


This will include a next-generation respectful relationships education program for students drawing on cutting-edge expert research – and will be trialled with students in four universities over the next 18 months.

The education program will be tailored specifically for students in Australian universities, drawing on insights from violence prevention and online learning experts.

But student education alone won’t change a society.

Evidence shows the most effective measures to prevent violence against women are those that shape cultures right across institutions and societies.

Institutions that model respect and gender equality in every facet of their operations can send a strong message: respect and equality are expected from – and for – every member of this community. That message can be sent by leadership, lecturers and tutors, professional staff, and every student.

A commitment to respectful and equal relationships is reinforced when students see them modelled.

When you practice what you preach.

So the Respect and Equality Program will deliver enhanced workplace standards, training packages, resources and toolkits for leaders, staff and students to promote equality and prevent violence.

Some of this work will give people in our communities greater skills and confidence to challenge sexism and stereotypes.

And it will imbue them with stronger skills and confidence to challenge those who would condone or excuse violence against women.

And to be part of ensuring Australian society at large utilises the talents and skills of women in an equal way at all levels of leadership and decision-making, in every sector.

For our students graduate and go out into the wider world, where they will be frontline staff, leaders and managers, teachers, nurses, engineers, lawyers, doctors, and corporate executives.


And if they take into those professional working lives a strong sense of equality and respect, and are committed to these values in their own behaviour and leadership, that will shape our wider society for the generations to come.

Our Watch’s national primary prevention framework – ‘Change the Story’ – is the first of its kind.

It makes very clear the gendered drivers of violence against women.

Our Watch works with education systems, sporting codes and companies to address these drivers. The underlying principle of their work is a powerful commitment to gender equality.

The Victorian Government’s commitment to ending violence against women – articulated in its ‘Free From Violence’ Strategy – also makes it clear that gender equality is our best solution to gender-based violence.

This was nowhere more evident than in the Victorian Premier’s response to the rape and murder of Eurydice Dixon.


In the immediate aftermath of Eurydice’s murder, Victorian police advised women to ‘be aware of their surroundings’, implying that women are responsible for their own safety.

In response, Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews said this:

“Our message to Victorian women is this: Stay home. Or don’t. Go out with friends at night. Or don’t. Go about your day exactly as you intend, on your terms.

“Because women don’t need to change their behaviour. Men do.”

We are proud to partner with Our Watch and the Victorian Government.

To our knowledge, no other university sector in the world has united in such a comprehensive program of work as the Respect. Now. Always. initiative.

And, as part of that work, coming together to help prevent violence against women across wider society.


The purpose of this work is not to reinvent the wheel. We want to build on existing work in universities, confirm and refine what works, and continue to tap the best expertise.

We will pilot the model in four universities over the next 18 months.

Following the pilot, consistent with the approach of Our Watch and the Victorian Government to share best practice, all the resources will be provided to all universities for free.

Our Watch has considerable expertise in designing these whole-of-institution approaches, and has already worked extensively in the schools sector here in Victoria and other states.

It has clear evidence that working across entire institutions is the most methodical and comprehensive way to embed violence prevention.

Significant progress has been made -- further progress will be achieved through this partnership.


If gender inequality is the core of the problem, then it also the heart of the solution.

Changing unacceptable deeply-engrained attitudes is not an easy or quick task. But universities can play a powerful role to shift attitudes that give rise to violence. And to equip students with the skills and confidence to forge a more equal world. And we are determined to do so.

As we embark on this next phase of our work, I have been thinking a lot about the survivors who have shared their own traumatic experiences with me.

It is no small thing to disclose something so devastating.

It can re-open the trauma of what you have lived.

And it can bring back the pain, the powerlessness, the violation.

So I want to say once again how thankful we are – and I am – to survivors who have shared their stories.

Your experiences matter. Your courage will not go unrewarded.

You are front and centre as we take each next step in this work.

You are what drives the people in this room and across all universities in their work each day.

I have two daughters, 11 and 13, who will start university in a few years’ time.

And when they do I want them to be safe. And I know university leaders want them to be safe too.

We are determined that they can study and work and go to their part-time jobs, catch the tram to footy training in a culture of safety and respect.

I want them to be strong and unafraid as they study and discover in the big, wide world.

I want them to feel confident to call out unacceptable behaviour.


I believe strongly that when we share our expertise, openly and honestly, at gatherings like this one, we help to create that world for them – and for their sons and daughters.

Thank you for your work – and your deep and enduring commitment to it.


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