CONTENT WARNING: This story contains descriptions of incidents of sexual assault. Please be wary of this if you choose to continue.
A ‘landmark’ survey is currently being conducted about rape and sexual assault in universities in Australia, and Human Rights Commissioner Gillian Triggs has voiced her shock at initial findings.
The survey, which has not yet been released in its entirety, included 40,000 Aussie students at 39 different universities around the country. It was actioned after a National Union of Students survey found that 72.5% of students had experienced some form of sexual harassment (not always on campus).
It’s being billed as the first ever comprehensive study of sexual harassment and assault at unis, and has the support of all vice-chancellors.
Since the survey began two weeks ago, nearly 400 submissions have been filed by students and staff, with reports of sexual abuse and assault reported at 35 of the 39 universities involved.
Triggs spoke about accounts including women waking up to find men having sex with them, as well as one account of a woman leaving a party with friends but ending up “being raped in a van in a car park”.
A PhD student’s account said a supervisor would constantly make comments about sex and masturbation, and would often find excuses for the student to come over to his desk to ‘look at photographs of himself’.
A female lecturer gave an account of students attempting to photograph her genitalia when she wore a dress one day – the students then posted the images to the internet.
“She said she did not report these incidents because she felt like it would tarnish her reputation more than the students’, that she would become an ‘administrative burden’.”
Triggs also spoke of the relatively high percentage reports from racial and sexual minorities – reports from LGBTQIA students currently stands at around 19%, while 13% of the reports came from international students:
“I have been shocked by the relatively high number of young international students and a disproportionately high number of LGBTI students who have reported assault.”
The Human Rights Commissioner also spoke of the fact that majority of these reports have previously gone unreported:
“Almost all submissions have begun with the phrase ‘I have not reported this, but…’.This suggests these assaults are seriously under-reported and once students knew they could come to us it was like a dam bursting.”
The survey is commissioned by Universities Australia, and will be managed by the Human Rights Commission and presented with recommendations to vice-chancellors next year.
Gillian Triggs will present initial findings to the Australian National University today.
Sexual harassment or violence is not acceptable. If you or someone you know has experienced sexual harassment or assault, you can talk to the friendly people at 1800 RESPECT on 1800 737 732 – it’s never your fault, and there are safe ways to speak out or talk to someone. If you are in immediate danger, call 000.