Alarming Levels of Sexual Violence Found on Australian Campuses, Report Says (NYT)

2Aug - by mh - 0 - In News

SYDNEY, Australia — A long-awaited national survey on sexual assault and harassment at Australian universities — the first of its kind in the country — has revealed that young women are experiencing what victims’ advocates describe as “shocking levels” of sexual violence on campuses across this country, prompting a range of new measures by officials to tackle the problem.

The report, released on Tuesday by the government’s Human Rights Commission, shows that 51 percent of all university students were sexually harassed at least once in 2016. It also shows that more than 2,000 students, or 6.9 percent of those surveyed, were sexually assaulted at least once in 2015 or 2016 and that in the vast majority of cases, neither the victim nor bystanders reported the episode.

“We are sorry that this happened to you. Sexual assault is a crime,” said Margaret Gardner, the chairwoman of Universities Australia, an association of the country’s universities, which helped finance the survey. “Through your stories you call on us and on every fellow student and member of staff to do more to prevent others from ever experiencing the damage,” she said.

“We cannot take away the pain that you have felt and that you feel,” she added. “But we acknowledge it and we can respond to that pain with compassion and care.”

The report had been widely anticipated, and its release will no doubt intensify Australia’s national conversation about the prevalence of sexual violence and its impact. The findings, drawn from a survey of more than 30,000 students at 39 Australian universities, map the full extent of the problem and largely confirm the accusations of victims and advocates who have been arguing for years that Australian universities have underestimated the severity of the sexual harassment and assault, and failed to adequately respond with support for victims and punishment for perpetrators.

“This report marks a huge milestone,” Kate Jenkins, Australia’s sex discrimination commissioner, said at a news conference. “For decades, university students and survivors of sexual assault and sexual harassment have advocated for change. We have all heard stories of these behaviors occurring on campus. Today, we have the first statistically significant, national data on the scale and nature of this problem at Australia’s universities.”

After the release of the report, the commission and Universities Australia made several recommendations regarding prevention, the response to accusations and specialized training for staff members.

The report showed that students often do not disclose sexual assaults to the police, university administrations or other formal reporting bodies, instead confiding in friends, tutors or lecturers, advocates say. But these people are rarely trained to respond to such disclosures, prompting a new set of recommendations to provide them with specialized training.

“We know that the way a disclosure of sexual assault is handled in the very first instance can make all the difference to the recovery of the victim or survivor,” said Belinda Robinson, the chief executive of Universities Australia.

But the problems go beyond just the official response, to deeply ingrained behaviors reflecting what experts have long described as a culture of hypermasculinity and privilege. The report found, for example, that bisexual students, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students, and students with a disability were all more likely to be harassed and assaulted than other students.

The report also found that it was not just victims who did not report the episodes; bystanders also stayed silent. Continue reading here: