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Background to Respect. Now. Always.

In February 2016, Australia's universities launched a groundbreaking initiative to prevent and address sexual assault and harassment across the sector.

Respect. Now. Always. highlights the determination of Australia’s universities to ensure that our universities are places of safety and respect. 

It builds on work done by individual universities in Australia over many years to develop policies, reporting procedures and support services. 

The campaign aims to: 

  • raise awareness of sexual assault and sexual harassment and lift the visibility of support services for students; 
  • obtain data to guide further improvement in university policies and services; and
  • assist universities in sharing global best practice resources across the sector​​

Hear from former Sex Discrimination Commissioner Elizabeth Broderick and other university leaders about Respect. Now. Always.:

National university student survey

In late 2016, tens of thousands of Australian university students were asked to participate in Australia’s first-ever national prevalence survey on university student experiences of sexual assault and sexual harassment. 

The survey results give Australian universities a clearer evidence base to guide further work to prevent and address sexual assault and sexual harassment. It is a critical part of the university sector’s Respect. Now. Always. campaign that aims to  keep university students safe.

The leaders of all 39 Australian universities funded the Australian Human Rights Commission to investigate the nature and scale of these behaviours. The survey is supported by the National Union of Students and the National Tertiary Education Union. 

All survey responses were confidential and the privacy of everyone invited to take part is protected. 

The survey findings were published by the Commission in the national Change the Course report released on 1 August 2017.




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As an initial response to the national student survey, Universities Australia developed a  10-point action plan as part of the Respect. Now. Always. campaign.

The plan made a series of further commitments to be undertaken across the sector as a whole — in addition to the commitments made by each university.

This comprehensive sector-wide work includes: 

  • the development of training resources; 
  • specialist professional development for counsellors; 
  • guidelines for universities to respond to reports of sexual assault; 
  • principles to guide supervisor-postgraduate interactions; 
  • providing awareness raising materials to residential colleges; and
  • respectful relationships education.

The first of these major commitments was an interim round-the-clock specialist support line for victims and survivors. This 24/7 support line operated in addition to the face-to-face counselling services available at universities. It was available in the months following the release of the survey to assist with an anticipated increase in students needing specialist counselling support at this time. It was operated by the specialist counselling service Rape and Domestic Violence Services Australia. 

The full 10-point action plan can be found here:

Download the 10-point action plan (PDF 7.1MB)

The Fullstop Foundation has produced these guidelines for journalists, survivors and student representatives on how reporting can affect survivors and ethical reporting practice.  

Frequently asked questions


What is the timeline for the national student survey and how does it fit into the Respect. Now. Always. initiative?

February 2016: all 39 university Vice-Chancellors launched a new initiative to address sexual assault and sexual harassment and build on work by individual universities in this area.

The Respect. Now. Always. initiative has three clear aims: 

- raise awareness of sexual assault and sexual harassment and lift the visibility of support services for students; 

- obtain data to guide further improvement in university policies and services; and

- assist universities in sharing best practice resources across the sector.

As part of this initiative, the university sector funded the Australian Human Rights Commission to conduct a national prevalence survey of university students.

September 2016 to November 2016: students across the 39 universities were asked to participate in the survey, with the survey running at different times at each institution during this period. 

31 July 2017: A national interim support line  is made available for university students who have experienced sexual assault or sexual harassment.

1 August 2017: The Australian Human Rights Commission released the national report with the survey results and recommendations on areas for university action.

Was there ethics approval for the survey? 

This project had two parts: the first was a national prevalence survey to provide quantitative data on the nature and scale of sexual assault and harassment. The second was an open submissions page on the Australian Human Rights Commission’s website that enabled anyone to share their experiences. This process was run by the Commission. 

The national prevalence survey received ethics approval from the University of New South Wales Human Research Ethics Committee in August 2016.

The Commission has stated that for the open submissions page: “Ethics approval is required in relation to research. The information provided in submissions is not research in the sense of a survey, but rather provides an opportunity for all members of the public to share their views.”

If you need help, or to talk with someone, specialist support is available at your university.

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