SYDNEY • More than half of university students in Australia were sexually harassed last year and 7 per cent sexually assaulted on at least one occasion, according to a "disturbing" new national study.
The findings are in an Australian Human Rights Commission report released yesterday. Carried out on behalf of the country's 39 universities, the study questioned more than 30,000 students after years of activism by women's groups to discover the extent of the problem.
Women were three times as likely as men to be sexually assaulted and almost twice as likely to be sexually harassed, either on campus, while travelling to and from the university or at off-campus events endorsed by the institution.
"The unavoidable conclusion of the data is that incidents of sexual assault and sexual harassment are occurring at unacceptable rates at Australian universities," the country's sex discrimination commissioner Kate Jenkins said.
"While anybody can experience sexual assault or sexual harassment, it is clear from the data that women at university experience these behaviours at disproportionately higher rates than men.
"This adds weight to the body of evidence that highlights disturbing rates of sexual violence against women in Australia."
WOMEN MORE AT RISK
While anybody can experience sexual assault or sexual harassment, it is clear from the data that women at university experience these behaviours at disproportionately higher rates than men.
SEX DISCRIMINATION COMMISSIONER KATE JENKINS, on the survey results.
WILL NOT CONDONE CRIME
We send a strong and clear message today that these behaviours are not acceptable. Not on our campuses - and not in Australian society.
UNIVERSITIES AUSTRALIA CHAIRMAN MARGARET GARDNER, on the body's 10-point plan to tackle the issue.
The report said that almost a third of the harassment occurred on university grounds or in teaching spaces, while one in five of the assaults happened at a university or residence social event.
Australian universities, which together have an enrolment of more than one million students, are hugely popular with international students, particularly those from China and India.
Many of those affected - including international students - did not formally report the incident, with the vast majority saying their university did not do enough to provide clear direction on what to do and where to seek support.
Ms Sophie Johnston of the National Union of Students told reporters: "It broke my heart to read this report. This is a cultural battle we are fighting everywhere."
The report made nine recommendations, including the need to change attitudes and behaviour and to ensure an independent and systemic review of how universities respond.
Universities Australia, the body representing the country's university sector, immediately announced a 10-point plan to tackle the issue.
This included a 24/7 support line, new training for staff to recognise and deal with the problem, and a commitment to a follow-up survey to track progress.
Said Universities Australia chairman Margaret Gardner: "We send a strong and clear message today that these behaviours are not acceptable. Not on our campuses - and not in Australian society."