Unis Have An Endemic Sexual Harassment And Assault Problem And They Need To Face The Figures


A massive survey of more than 43,000 university students in Australia has found one in 20 have been sexually assaulted since starting university and one in six have been sexually harassed.

The National Student Safety Survey conducted by Universities Australia throughout 2021 was released on Wednesday and showed that yes, this is still a problem on campus.

The report noted the majority of instances of sexual harassment occurred in general spaces on campus, while the majority of sexual assaults happened in club, society or event spaces, or in student accommodation.

More than 6 per cent of students who lived in student accommodation reported having been sexually assaulted in the past 12 months, and 19 per cent reported being sexually harassed.

When broken down by gender identities, rates of sexual assault and harassment were overwhelmingly the highest among non-binary and trans students.

Thirty per cent of all students reported being sexually assaulted at least once in their lives — but for gender-diverse students it was 56.1 per cent.

First Nations students and disabled students were also far more likely to be sexually harassed and sexually assaulted in a university context than other students.

Queer students were targeted more than heterosexual students too. More than 39 per cent of pansexual students, 33 per cent of bisexual students and 23 per cent of gay or lesbian students said they’d been sexually harassed compared with just 13 per cent of heterosexual students.

The new figures were down from the 2016 report which was attributed to the way the survey was written.

The previous survey was criticised at the time for questions that did not align with research on how to discuss abusive behaviours.

The new questions were worded to describe behaviours and instances, rather than blatantly asking respondents if they had been sexually harassed or assaulted — questions people weren’t always sure how to answer.

The decline in figures was also attributed to COVID-19 and lockdowns barring students from campus for the better part of two years in some cities.

But even with loads of students learning remotely, one in 12 students reported being sexually harassed in the past 12 months as well as a spike in online harassment, particularly in private messages sent over Zoom.

While reports showed these numbers have declined, it’s clear an endemic problem at universities remains.

This survey showed at least half of university students knew nothing or very little about the process for reporting or making a formal complaint about sexual harassment or assault and even fewer knew where or how to seek support.

The absolute bear minimum institutions can do is make sure everyone knows what to do if it happens to them or a friend. Maybe only then we’ll get a clear picture of just how bad this really is and what can be done to fix it.