My name is Professor John Dewar. I am the Chair of Universities Australia and the Vice Chancellor of La Trobe University.
I acknowledge the Ngunnawal and Ngambri peoples on whose country I am speaking from today. Universities Australia acknowledges and celebrates the knowledge and culture of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and I acknowledge all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people joining us today.
Today is a hard day for our community, particularly for victim-survivors of sexual harassment and sexual assault. We know that what we are about to discuss will be distressing.
Today we are releasing the findings of the Social Research Centre’s 2021 National Student Safety Survey, one of the world’s largest surveys on sexual harassment and sexual assault experienced by university students.
We urge anyone who needs support to seek help. Support hotlines, including 1800 RESPECT, Lifeline, Mensline Australia, QLife and BeyondBlue, can be found on the first page of the report and at nsss.edu.au
I will speak to you today about the results of the survey. Catriona Jackson, Chief Executive Officer of Universities Australia will speak in more detail about the reports and the action the sector will be taking in response.
Before I talk about the results, I first want to say, on behalf of Universities Australia and its 39 members, I am deeply sorry. To every single University student who has experienced sexual harassment or sexual assault, or has a friend, family member or loved one who has – I am sorry. I am sorry for what you endured. I am sorry for how that may have affected your relationships, your mental health, your studies and your life.
Every person has the right to be and feel safe so that they can learn, work, live and thrive. Every person who attends university has the right to believe they will be treated with respect, dignity and fairness.
From this survey, we know sexual harassment and sexual assault continue to occur in university communities, but it is not limited to campuses. It can occur in students’ own homes, in residential colleges, pubs and clubs. These are the places where students live, work, study, travel and socialise. The results of this significant survey are distressing, disappointing and confronting.
Too many students have experienced sexual harassment and sexual assault, not only in their time on campus, but away from university and over the course of their entire lifetime.
We want to thank every single one of the 43,819 students who responded to the survey, and the 1,835 who bravely shared their personal stories.
Your contribution helps us make change and see where measures may have fallen short, and where there are green shoots of cultural change.
The survey results are part of a growing body of evidence in Australia which shows that sexual harassment and sexual assault are pervasive in all corners of our society. As a nation, this cannot be tolerated, and as a sector, we will continue to be part of the solution.
Almost half our student population has experienced sexual harassment at least once in their lifetime.
One in six students have been sexually harassed since starting at university and one in twelve has been sexually harassed in the past 12 months.
One in twenty students have been sexually assaulted since starting at university and 1.1 per cent have been sexually assaulted in the past 12 months.
The survey has found that women are far more likely to be sexually harassed or sexually assaulted than men. Also, troublingly, it has found sexuality and gender diverse students are at significantly greater risk than all other groups of being sexually harassed or sexually assaulted. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, people living with disabilities, and people from culturally diverse backgrounds, are also student cohorts at greater risk of sexual harassment and sexual assault. The majority of perpetrators are male.
This situation is unacceptable.
No instance of sexual harassment or sexual assault should be tolerated, and our institutions must set the tone for what is expected from our future graduates. To achieve this, we need to continue in our efforts on prevention as well as providing support, compassion and fairness to all victims of sexual harassment and sexual assault in our institutions.
In 2015 we launched the Respect. Now. Always. campaign to raise awareness of sexual harassment and sexual assault. This built on decades of work on individual campuses. That work told us it was time to act as a sector.
In 2016, Universities Australia engaged the Australian Human Rights Commission to undertake the first ever national survey on the prevalence of sexual harassment and sexual assault in university settings. Australian universities were the first in the world to commission a survey of this kind.
That survey, which resulted in the Change the course report, was an evidence base for change. Universities implemented hundreds of initiatives and measures to prevent and better respond to sexual harassment and sexual assault.
These include better reporting and evidence collection processes, consent training, respectful relationship education for students, stronger guidelines for relationships between supervisors and students, and overhauling the way reports of sexual harassment or sexual assault are handled by a university.
We are working hard to make our campuses physically safer and more secure.
We know we need to do more, and we will do it. These findings will guide our continuing work.
We know that meaningful cultural and behavioural change does not happen overnight. Our work in conjunction with schools, workplaces, governments, and sexual violence experts is critical to achieving this in Australian society.
Our focus is on finding ways we can change the attitudes that inform the very real and lived experiences we are seeing in these survey statistics. This comes down to prevention. We must continue working hard to prevent sexual harassment and sexual assault, and eliminate the destructive attitudes that foster it within our universities.
As we absorb the survey results, the sector will reflect on what else we can and must do, and we will engage expert partners as well as survivor and student advocates on effective future measures.
To all the students who shared their experience of sexual harassment and sexual assault, I thank you again. Your brave contributions will help to drive our efforts forward to achieve real and lasting change.
Discussions about sexual harassment and sexual assault can be distressing for many in the community. Please take care to report with sensitivity and compassion.
- Guidelines for reporting on violence against women and their children: https://media.ourwatch.org.au/resource/how-to-report-on-violence-against-women-and-their-children-2019-national-edition
- Guidelines for reporting on content which references suicide and self-harm: https://mindframe.org.au/suicide/communicating-about-suicide/mindframe-guidelines
We encourage you to accompany your reporting with contact details for national referral services, a list of which can be found at the bottom of this website: https://nsss.edu.au/
A video recording of Professor Dewar’s statement can be found at https://universitiesaustralia.edu.au/nsss