Date: 
Tuesday 19 December 2017

The Australian Human Rights Commission has released a report card on the steps universities have taken to prevent sexual harassment and sexual assaults.

The landmark Change the course report released in August 2017 found one in five (21%) students reported experiencing sexual harassment in a university setting in 2016 and 1.6% of students reported experiencing sexual assault in a university setting on at least one occasion in 2015 or 2016.

Last month, the Sex Discrimination Commissioner Kate Jenkins wrote to all 39 University Vice Chancellors to request information about what action their university had taken in response to the Change the course report.

All 39 universities have accepted the majority of the Commission’s recommendations, and 32 universities have explicitly accepted all nine recommendations made.

32 universities have reported establishing, or a commitment to establishing, an advisory body or working group, in line with Recommendation 1 of Change the course.

All 39 universities reported implementing, or a commitment to implementing, training and education in relation to sexual assault, sexual harassment and respectful relationships to some or all of their students, in line with Recommendation 2 of Change the course.

All 39 universities reported that they have taken steps to increase the availability and visibility of their support services, in line with Recommendation 3 of Change the course.

20 universities reported that they have launched or will launch apps for students that offer a range of information and services including links to support services, links to campus security or information on consent and relationships.

23 universities reported implementing, or a commitment to implementing, a review of existing university policies and response pathways in relation to sexual assault and sexual harassment, as per Recommendation 4 of Change the course.

36 universities reported identifying staff members and student representatives most likely to receive disclosures of sexual assault and sexual harassment and ensured they have received training in responding to disclosures or are preparing to do so, in line with Recommendation 5 of Change the course.

23 universities reported that they are working to ensure that information about disclosures and reports of sexual assault and sexual harassment is collected and stored confidentially, in line with Recommendation 6 of Change the course.

16 universities reported planning to conduct an audit of university counselling services, as per Recommendation 7 of Change the course.

All universities, through their peak body Universities Australia, have committed to conducting the national survey on the prevalence of sexual assault and sexual harassment every three years, in line with Recommendation 8 of Change the course.

Nine universities have reported taking steps to review factors which contribute to sexual assault and sexual harassment in their residential colleges and university residences, as per Recommendation 9 of Change the course.

Commissioner Kate Jenkins said she’s pleased to see Vice Chancellors demonstrating leadership and taking action in response to the report.

“Ongoing commitment to addressing these issues is vital, and as our report recommends, there needs to be engagement at all levels of leadership in order to address these issues.

“As we have seen recently, sexual assault and sexual harassment occur not only at universities, but across our society.  I urge Vice Chancellors to seize upon this opportunity to show leadership and make a difference for students and Australian society more broadly,” she said.

> Audit of university responses to Change the course report