SYDNEY (AFP) - New students in major Australian universities are subjected to violent hazing rituals, a report said Monday (Feb 26) as its authors called for the practice to be criminalised to protect victims against injury or death.
The "Red Zone" report by activist group End Rape on Campus focused on orientation week before the start of classes and covered 12 Australian universities.
"The rates of hazing and sexual assaults at colleges in Australia are incredibly high," the study's co-author Anna Hush told AFP, adding that some of the rituals dated back decades.
"It's a self-perpetuating culture in that the same people that experience hazing or harassment will go on to perpetrate that when they are older students," Hush said.
The report's authors recommended the criminalisation of hazing rituals "requiring an individual to undergo any act which is likely to cause bodily danger or physical punishment to any student or other person".
The 162-page report detailed alleged bullying, harassment and assault incidents, including male students masturbating into the shampoo bottles of female residents at a University of Sydney college.
Other cases allegedly involved male students consuming live goldfish, and faeces smeared on the walls of common areas at University of Sydney colleges.
The University of Sydney's Vice Chancellor Michael Spence said late Monday that no one would be able to read the report "without being appalled".
"This is deeply concerning, a long-entrenched culture", Spence told ABC radio, adding that the university was working on implementing recommendations made last year by Australia's former Sex Discrimination Commissioner Elizabeth Broderick.
Broderick led an 18-month review into the university's culture following allegations of hazing and has also advised the Australian Federal Police and defence academy on similar issues.
The report comes after a national study released in August said more than half of university students in Australia were sexually harassed in 2016 and seven percent sexually assaulted on at least one occasion.
Hush said the new survey underlined the need for external scrutiny to tackle abusive behaviour at universities.
The report called for the creation of a national government taskforce to investigate sexual assault and harassment at colleges.
"What we've seen in the past two years is increased scrutiny on the colleges due to media reporting and people who have had these experiences speaking out about them", Hush said.
"What's changed now is there's significant degree of public pressure on the colleges to take action and for other institutions... to intervene in college activities", she added.