57% of ANU students faced sexual harassment in 2015 and 2016, AHRC report shows

Eliza Croft, Michael Turvey & Adeline Tinessia

Content Warning: This article contains discussion of sexual assault and sexual harassment.

The Australian Human Rights Commission’s  (AHRC) report on sexual assault and sexual harassment  (SASH ) at universities was released at 10am today. It reveals that 51% of all University students have experienced sexual harassment at least once in 2015 or 2016.

The report is the culmination of more than a year of research. In the second half of 2016, the AHRC conducted a survey of students at all 39 Australian universities, including ANU. The survey asked of the victims, perpetrators, prevalence and location of sexual assault and sexual harassment, as well as the number of complaints or reports of sexual assault and sexual harassment made at university. Students not invited to complete the survey could instead make a submission detailing their experience. Over 30,000 students responded to the national survey.

The results show sexual assault and harassment is prevalent on campus.

The survey shows that 1 in 5 students were sexually harassed in a location within the university and 1.6% were sexually assaulted in a university setting. It also revealed that women are 3 times more likely than men to be sexually harassed and twice as likely to be sexually assaulted. Queer* students were around twice as likely to be affected: 44% of bisexual students and 38% of students who identified as homosexual were sexually harassed, in comparison to 23% of heterosexual students.

28% of undergraduate students reported having experienced sexual harassment, 9 points higher than postgraduate students. However, postgraduate students were more likely than undergraduate students to have been sexually harassed by a university staff member in their most recent incident: 10% of postgraduate reported to have been sexually assaulted by a tutor or a lecturer in comparison to 6% of undergraduate.

The ANU is worse than the national average – and it’s because of Halls of Residence

57% of ANU students reported facing sexual assault or harassment – 6 points higher than the national average. That difference is entirely made up of assaults on campus – 35% of ANU students said their most recent harassment was on campus, compared to 21% in the country. The majority of that difference occurs in ANU’s halls of residence – 25% of ANU’s most recent cases were within halls, as opposed to 11% nationally.

Results also showed that harassment in the workplace, while overall much lower than in Residences or campus grounds, happens at ANU at double the national rate. The only area where ANU was significantly lower than the national average was harassment on public transport, with ANU at 7% of cases and the national average at 22%.


Schmidt says Residential Halls must try to improve, or face disaffiliation from ANU.

Halls of residence have come under the spotlight with 10% of students reported that sexual assault took place in a residential college or university residence and 21% of students reported that the assault took place in a university or residence social event. Schmidt made an unprecedented commitment to action, announcing that “ANU will undertake a review of its residential colleges” with regards to sexual assault. Schmidt went on to promise that if an affiliated college (ie John XXIII or Burgmann) refused to participate, the ANU would “commence review of the affiliation of that college with a view to determining if the affiliation will be revoked”


AHRC says leadership reform is necessary for improvement

The AHRC put forward 9 recommendations in response to the data reported, including that Vice-Chancellors take responsibility in decision-making and governance, and that Universities provide students and staff with an adequate sex education and awareness of support services and reporting processes. Universities are also advised to commission an independent review on current university policies and its effectiveness and to identify staffs and students who to receive disclosures of sexual assault and harassment cases and provide them the appropriate training.

Universities should also insure the confidentiality of each case report, AHRC said, and commission an audit of university counselling services. They also recommended Universities engage an independent body to conduct ‘National University student survey of sexual assault and sexual harassment’ every three years. Residential colleges and university residents are recommended to also commission an independent review of factors that contribute to sexual assault and sexual harassment.


Schmidt has apologised, and promised further action

Brian Schmidt personally apologised to any students, staff or alumni who had experienced sexual assault.  “I pledge to the students and staff at ANU who are affected by sexual assault and harassment that we are acting, we will do more,” Vice-Chancellor Brian Schmidt said, “we will not cease until this stops happening in our community.”

ANU will accept and implement all recommendations from HRC, Schmidt said, including an independent review of all University policies related to sexual assault or harassment, to be delivered in September 2017. Last month, ANUSA also announced the presence of a full-time sexual assault counsellor from the Canberra Rape Crisis Centre to assist students. The ANU has also announced that all new students will complete a consent training module, a full audit of counselling services, and has committed to following recommendations from ANUSA and PARSA in the area.

ANUSA and the Women’s Department say it’s not enough. They are holding a sit-in and speak out at Chancellery today from midday, to protest the University’s handling of incidents of SASH, and make their demands heard.

ANU has set up a ‘safe space’ in Chifley Library today, where survivors and other affected staff and students can access counselling, legal help, and other assistance. The Counselling Centre has also been given more resources for the month, and a specialised sexual assault counsellor from the Canberra Rape Crisis Centre is due to start work soon.