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Labor has announced a taskforce following a concerted program of action by universities to prevent sexual assault and sexual harassment in student communities.

Universities Australia Chief Executive Catriona Jackson said there had been three years of comprehensive sector-wide work by Australia’s 39 universities through our Respect. Now. Always. initiative.

In addition to the many measures that began prior to the national university-funded student survey in 2016, universities have instigated 800-plus actions and initiatives against sexual violence since August 2017.

“Sexual violence afflicts every country the world over. In Australia, universities have been determined to make a difference to this global challenge,” Ms Jackson said.

“Our Respect.Now.Always. initiative is a first of its kind. As a sector, we have led the way to take a strong and united stand against unacceptable behaviour,” she said.

“That’s why our universities funded the national student survey undertaken by the Australian Human Rights Commission – as part of the strong university commitment to concerted ongoing action.”

Society-wide, women aged 18-24 are most likely to experience sexual assault and sexual harassment.

In her comments today, Shadow Education Minister Tanya Plibersek acknowledged the work done by universities, noting progress and action, particularly through the Respect. Now. Always. initiative.

Ms Jackson said: “As part of comprehensive Respect. Now. Always. agenda, Universities Australia has a 10-point action plan for work that spans the sector.”

The plan includes developing respectful relationships education for all university students, specialist training for university counsellors, new guidelines for universities on how best to respond to disclosures or reports of sexual violence, and principles for respectful relationships between supervisors and their students.

“There is no greater priority for universities than the safety and security of our students,” Ms Jackson said.

“This is a societal and global issue that we must all address together.”

The 800-plus university initiatives to address sexual violence include:
  • respectful relationships and consent education programs;
  • independent reviews of university policies;
  • greater access to specialist counselling for students and staff;
  • increased visibility and access to support and emergency lines through websites, social media, and student guides;
  • improved orientation and pre-arrival information for international and residential students;
  • upskilling counsellors and support staff;
  • first responders and bystanders training for students and staff;
  • new streamlined online reporting tools and de-identified, confidential data collection;
  • enhanced engagement with sexual violence services, police and transport authorities;
  • major reviews of policies and procedures, including creating standalone policies on sexual assault and sexual harassment;
  • awareness campaigns and student-led initiatives;
  • campus-specific safety and emergency apps; and
  • new initiatives and partnerships with residential colleges and accommodation providers. 

Universities Australia and our member universities thank once again the many survivors, violence prevention experts, students and staff who have contributed to this major program of work over several years.

If you or anyone you know has experienced sexual assault or sexual harassment support is available at 1800 737 732.

Universities Australia Media Contacts

Misha Schubert
02 6285 8133
Mobile: 0421 612 351

Bella Counihan
Ph: 02 6285 8123
Mobile: 0419 212 219 
James Giggacher
Ph: 02 6285 8118
Mobile: 0413 665 143

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