It also told deeply personal stories of students who had been raped or sexually harassed. Some of them on campus. Some of them in their jobs, in their homes, or while catching a train or tram.
Their stories are haunting. I pay tribute to the survivors who summoned up the courage to come forward. These stories have helped Australia’s universities and their students to deliver another 800 initiatives over the past year to strengthen support services, policies and practices.
And that is no small achievement.
University leaders engaged the Australian Human Rights Commission to gather this information because they wanted to know what was happening to their students — and not just on campus. The ongoing trauma of sexual assault affects their sense of safety, their health and their studies. I want to let every survivor know that your stories sit at the centre of every new action, every new policy and every new support.
The changes made in the past year build on earlier work. Previous generations of university students, staff and leaders have laid the foundations for where we are today. More universities now deliver respectful relationships and consent education programs. There is better access to support services for students and staff. It is easier for students to find out how and where to report unacceptable behaviour.
And for the first time, universities are working together in a program of co-ordinated action across the sector to make even bigger inroads.
In the past month, Universities Australia has also released two major elements of our 10-point Action Plan under the Respect. Now. Always. initiative. These are new guidelines to help universities respond to reports and disclosures by students and principles to guide relationships between supervisors and research students.
Our action plan also includes the development of further training resources for staff, specialist professional development for counsellors, and respectful relationships education.
Sexual violence and gender inequality affect every society worldwide. Addressing these does not have a single, quick fix. Forging change across an entire society takes determined and concerted action over a long period. And that’s what we are committed to.
Nearly 300,000 new students enrol at university every year. They bring with them varied experiences, backgrounds, and attitudes about consent and relationships. If we can help to shape the views of 300,000 people each year who will soon graduate, join the workforce and take on roles in wider society, that will have a ripple effect.
This work needs detailed expert input and sustained long-term effort. Universities are committed to this work for the long haul. And we want to keep working with students, staff and experts as we take further action.
Change is possible and change is happening.
Catriona Jackson is Chief Executive of Universities Australia.
As published in Fairfax on Saturday 4 August 2018.