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Sexual assault and harassment campaign timeline

A history of activism around sexual assault and harassment on campus.

Image: Justine Landis-Hanley Image: Justine Landis-Hanley

1997

  • An 18-year-old woman was found raped and murdered on St Paul’s oval. A few weeks later, Anne Summers and David Marr revealed that students at St Paul’s gave an annual “Animal Act of the Year Award” to a student who allegedly gang-raped a Women’s College student.

2009

  • A group of USyd students, mostly from St Paul’s College, formed a Facebook group called “Define Statutory” which described itself as “pro-rape, anti-consent”.

2014

  • USyd student Alexander Wright took a naked photo of a woman while they were having sex without her consent or knowledge. After a lengthy complaint process — which concluded without the University punishing Wright — the woman took her story to Honi and the Sydney Morning Herald. The Wom*n’s Collective held a rally outside Fisher Library after the story was exposed.

2015

  • The National Union of Students’ ‘Talk About It’ survey into the experiences of female university students in Australia discovered 72.75 per cent of female students had experienced sexual harassment or unwelcome sexual behaviour and 27 per cent had experienced some form of sexual assault while enrolled at university (but not necessarily on campus).
  • The University announced a survey open to all students about sexual assault and harassment at USyd, covering students’ experiences, how they perceive the University dealing with these issues and reforms they would like to see.

2016

  • FebruaryUSyd’s survey into sexual assault and harassment revealed only 4 per cent of students who witnessed an incident reported it to the University. 41 per cent of students who reported incidents found the University’s procedures did not help them at all and another 27 per cent found the University’s procedures helpful but felt more could be done. The Senior Executive Group of the University endorsed the recommendations in the report, which included reforming the existing complaints handling mechanisms.
  • AprilThe University held a screening of The Hunting Ground, a documentary about sexual assault on US college campuses. Only three people attended because management did not promote it or even attend themselves.
  • May 10Pulp revealed a publication by Wesley College students from 2014, which included a section called the ‘Rackweb’ slut-shaming female students by mapping inter-college ‘hook-ups’ and ‘awarding’ them titles such as “Best Ass”, “Best Cleavage” and “Biggest Pornstar”.
  • May 16USyd Students’ Representative Council wom*n’s officer Anna Hush led a silent protest at Wesley College, demanding it release the names of the editors of the Rackweb and that colleges introduce mandatory sexual harassment education for students.
  • May 20The University invited former Sex Discrimination Commissioner Elizabeth Broderick to review the culture of its residential colleges — which are independent from the University.
  • May 28The University held another screening of The Hunting Ground — this time with (far) more than three attendees.
  • JulyAn Honi freedom of information investigation found the University had received 17 reports of sexual assault, indecent assault, and acts of indecency on campus between  May 2011 and May 2016.
  • August: The Australian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) launched a national survey into sexual harassment and assault on university campuses covering 39 Australian universities. USyd wom*n’s officers from the past 10 years penned an open letter to Vice Chancellor Michael Spence with 12 demands relating to research, education and training, and policy and procedures for the University to tackle sexual assault and harassment.
  • August 27Around 20 students occupied Eastern Avenue during the University’s Open Day carrying mattresses reading “Red tape won’t cover up rape” among other messages while members of management turned off the lights and asked parents of prospective students in the audience to leave. The protest paid homage to a 2014–2015 performance art piece by Emma Sulkowicz at Columbia University.
  • SeptemberThe University promised to reform the sexual assault reporting system by semester one, 2017. The reformed system, which is more transparent about the key steps and timing of the process, has since been delivered. The University also established a Safer Communities Advisory body including staff, students and college representatives to consult on policy, programs and campaigns related to student safety and welfare.
  • OctoberA Channel 7 freedom of information investigation of 39 Australian universities revealed 575 formal complaints were made about sexual misconduct over the previous five years, with only six resulting in expulsion. Of those, 52 were reported at USyd, with one expulsion, one suspension and four reprimands noted in response.

2017

  • MarchThe University began a trial of an online consent module for students after telling Honi two weeks prior that they had rejected the idea. Documents obtained by Channel 7 News revealed USyd withheld CCTV footage of an alleged attempted assault in a campus carpark from the public that police wanted to release to help identify the alleged attacker.
  • Maynews.com.au revealed a post from a St Paul’s College students’ Facebook group comparing having sex with large women to “harpooning a whale” and offering to help “get rid of some chick” after a “rooting”. In the weeks after it was exposed, the College joined the Broderick review, and its warden warned students against publishing sexist posts because they could hurt their CVs then later announced his retirement for the end of the year.
  • August 1The AHRC survey results were released, revealing 1.6 per cent of university students were assaulted in a university setting in 2015 and 2016 and 21 per cent were sexually harassed in a university setting in 2016.
  • August 2Students protested after the release of the AHRC results to call on universities to meet their demands and take action against sexual assault on campus.

AHRC Timeline


If you have experienced sexual assault or sexual harassment and feel you would like to speak to someone for support or information, NSW Rape Crisis Centre (Phone: 1800  424 017) can provide counselling 24-hours a day, 7 days a week.

A new national University Support Line is available: 1800 572 224

The support line will be available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. It will operate until 30 November 2017.