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Western Sydney University raises awareness on sexual assault

Western Sydney University is working to promote awareness of the important, yet still mildly taboo, subjects of sexual harassment and assault.

Posters on the walls of the University’s Sydney City campus attract the attention of students as they walk by, with callouts to ‘speak out’ against sexual harassment. However, speaking out may be a more difficult task than initially anticipated.

Speaking to two of the university’s male students, both said they would feel slightly uncomfortable intervening if they came across such a situation. Student, Lorenzo Sanni said, “I hate confrontation, I would feel very self-conscious, you’re in between a rock and a hard place”.

Lorenzo’s friend Gabriel, added that there was a concern for their own well-being, as they would not know how the perpetrator would react to being called out on their wrong-doing.

More concerning is the opinion of the female student body. One student, Natasa Draca, has seen the posters around campus but has not really taken too much notice of them. Reading one poster’s bold statistic she said: “it’s very confronting to know that nothing is really being done even though it’s being promoted and awareness is being raised”.

The posters follow on from the Australian Human Rights Commission’s 2017 ‘Change the Course’ report, which met its 18-month milestone earlier this year. The report called for Australian universities to participate in raising awareness of sexual assault and harassment, in the hopes of educating students and reducing the number of incidences taking place.

The results of the Commission’s initial study found that one in every five students experienced sexual harassment in a university setting. More disturbing is that close to five in every ten students who reported being sexually harassed, knew the perpetrator.

The data indicates things don’t get much better after university. According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics’ 2016 Personal Safety Survey (PSS), one in every two women had experienced a form of sexual harassment in their lifetime. The most commonly reported form of harassment was inappropriate comments about a woman’s body or sex life. Publicly available statistics like these, and the growing push to raise the alarm and educate at a university level, don’t seem to be helping alleviate the problem.

Speaking at a 2018 National Press Club, Sex Discrimination Commissioner Kate Jenkins said “one in three workers in Australia said that they had been sexually harassed” an unsettling increase from the one in five reported in the same 2012 survey.

Sexual harassment takes many forms and does not discriminate. Men can be victims too, with the 2016 PSS reporting that one in four men had experienced sexual harassment in their lifetime. Although this figure is substantially less than that of the female community, it remains a cause for concern.

The Australian Human Rights Commission website provides a short information guide for those wanting to know more. According to the website, staring, leering and suggestive comments/jokes are all valid acts of sexual harassment.

If you or someone you know requires support for sexual harassment you can phone Campus Safety and Security on 1300 737 003, or complaints Management and Resolution on 02 9678 7900.