Respect Now Always Briefing: Live Blog

Content Warning: Discussions of Sexual Assault and Harassment
If you experience any distress or wish to seek support please call the new national 24/7 student support line 1800 572 224.

At 10am this morning, Universities Australia will release the results of the Australian Human Rights Commission’s report into sexual assault and sexual harassment at universities. Immediately following, Western Sydney University Vice Chancellor Barney Glover will brief students and staff regarding the university specific results, and the University’s plan to resolve any issues highlighted.

Western Sydney’s institutional data is now available on the university’s website:
westernsydney.edu.au/newscentre/news_centre/lead_story/australian_human_rights_commission_national_survey_results

11:52 – Briefing Ends

That concludes the live blog – we’ll be having a deeper look at the data, and be back if there is anything of note!

 

11:16 – Western Sydney Response

The university is already actively working to address the recommendations of the Australian Human Rights Commission report.

One of the key issues is in circumstances where survivors are reluctant to report to police. As such, the university is working with UA to develop best practice programs.

There will be a university taskforce formed to implement the recommendations from the report, and work to create a long-term uni-wide response.

This response is twofold:

  • consent education and cultural change, to reduce the number of incidents, and
  • response to reporting, including first responder training, streamlining counselling services.

In regards to response, currently counsellors have 2

The university will look at ways to break the stigma about reporting, and encourage students to seek help – “there’s a cultural issue here about seeking support services”.

The University’s taskforce will involve student representatives, staff and potentially external service providers. This will likely be an evolution of the existing Respect. Now. Always. working party.

Staff have raised significant concerns about students with disabilities, who often face additional barriers to reporting assault and harassment.

Regarding international students, the data shows that there is similar prevalence as domestic students, however the university has identified this as a major area of focus.

While the data does not focus on student social events such as UniGames and student clubs, many of the anecdotal reports indicated that off-campus events with alcohol were often contributing factors. The university will try and do more, because despite implementation of consent and bystander training recently, there have been issues recently.

The university has committed to working with Campus Living Villages to ensure that the on-campus residences are a safe place, and that the AHRC recommendations are fully implemented.

“There is a major issue with under-reporting, but even with those that are reported, there are far too many occurrences”

“Overwhelmingly, university campuses are safe… by international standards. This doesn’t diminish the impact of these reports.”

“Universities have a responsibility to their communities. We not only need to address this on campus, but in our community and society at a broader level.”

 

11:00 – Western Sydney Briefing

Western Sydney’s institutional data is now available on the university’s website:
westernsydney.edu.au/newscentre/news_centre/lead_story/australian_human_rights_commission_national_survey_results

The University’s Vice Chancellor Barney Glover is addressing staff and students at Campbelltown this morning, one of 3 campus forums following the release of the data today.

Over 600 Western Sydney students responded to the survey, in addition to any who contributed to the qualitative reporting of their experiences.

1 in 4 Western Sydney students who responded indicated experiencing sexual harassment during 2015/2016. Over 90% of those did not report, many saying they did not know how or where to report.

More than 2% of students reported that they had witnessed sexual assault during the previous two years. This is a stark call for increased bystander intervention.

Over 60% of students who had been sexually harassed said it was by a fellow student.

 

Full Universities Australia Press Conference here:

10:45 – Media Questions

Kate Jenkins notes that there is not comparable data for other parts of Australian society, but that the rate is concerning nonetheless, and if it reflects broader society, this is also very concerning.

Sophie Johnston tells reporters that consent needs to be taught before university, but that it needs to be strongly reinforced by universities.

Kate Jenkins says that parents should be concerned, but that bringing these issues to light is the first step in a clear response.

Regarding the methodology of the survey, Kate Jenkins notes that the survey was rigorously reviewed before it was sent to students.

The presence of alcohol is noted as a concerning factor, as was influence over the victim, and proximity, all of which are especially present in college settings.

 

10:38 – National Union of Students

Sophie Johnston, President of the National Union of Students notes that the data in this survey echos the 2015 Talk About It survey.

“This is a cultural battle being faced everywhere.”

“Students will not accept universities congratulating themselves on being below the national average.”

She calls on all universities to face the issue head on, as any sexual assault is one too many.

She notes that over 40% didn’t report, because they didn’t think it was severe enough. These survivors deserve better.

 

10:27 – Universities Australia’s Response

Current Chair of Universities Australia (UA), Professor Margaret Gardner, has addressed all survivors of sexual assault. She notes that many of the reports call on universities to ensure that no more students end up in these situations.

“Universities must be places of safety and respect … we wanted to know what was happening on our campuses.”

Today, at all 39 universities, students and staff will meet with senior management to view the data, and move toward change.

UA has funded an 24/7 support line for students, staffed by trained staff. This service can be contacted on 1800 572 224.

Respectful Relationships training is under development as part of the national response.

 

10:24 – AHRC Recommendations

  • Leadership and Governance – transparent action, and visible commitment, from university leaders
  • Education and Campaigns
  • Increased response including specialist support
  • Monitoring and evaluation of the issues
  • Independent expert lead review of college based sexual assault and harassment.

 

10:13 – Report Findings

Sex Discrimination Commissioner Kate Jenkins notes that there were over 1800 students who participated in the survey. Of these, over 20% of respondents noted they had been sexually harassed in universities 2016.

This harassment most commonly occurred on public transport, on campus and in learning spaces. In regards to incidents to sexual assault, many occurred on student residences, and during university (and student club) social events.

Hazing and other college activities were flagged by a number of submissions, and the way in which it is deeply embedded in college culture means that this requires urgent redress.

Often students were reluctant to report the incidents because they did not know the official process, they felt shamed, or that the issue would not be treated respectfully. In a number of cases, students reported being dismissed by staff who they attempted to report the assault to.

 

10:00 – University Australia Briefing

Incoming President of the Australian Human Rights Commission (AHRC), Prof. Rosalind Croucher AM is addressing media regarding the report. She notes the parallels between sexual assault/harassment response and anti-bullying programs, particularly the need for bystander intervention.

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