News //

Universities fail victim-survivors, Senate says

The report singled out Universities and recommended that an independent body be created to oversee policy and practice at Universities as it relates to sexual misconduct.

The Senate Committee report on current and proposed sexual consent laws in Australia criticises universities for their failure to support victim-survivors of sexual assault and sexual harrassment, recommending further surveys to increase transparency within the sector. 

The report was led by the Senate committee and investigated all aspects of consent, from the legislation itself, to avenues for early education and intervention. It provided 17 recommendations, with the penultimate recommendation suggesting an independent taskforce “with strong powers” to oversee University policy and practice as they respond to sexual violence on campus.

The task force would provide an accessible complaints process, accountability measures for “both universities and residences if standards are not met” and transparency among institutions in regards to prevention and response.

The report also recommends that Universities Australia conducts a third National Student Safety Survey, and commits to holding one every three years. It stated that respondents should be expanded from students over 18 to those who commence university at 17, as this distinction only serves to exclude victim-survivors.

The committee calls for an independent review into Tertiary Education Quality and Standards Agency’s response to sexual violence on university campuses.

Submissions were gathered from a number of student organisations, experts and other stakeholders in the field of sexual consent laws. The report is a scathing review of legislation and processes from fields of criminal law to institutions such as Universities which should have a vested interest in preventing sexual assault. 

USyd SRC Women’s officer Iggy Boyd commented “Three-yearly National Student Safety Surveys were a recommendation of the Australian Human Rights Commissions’ Change the Course Survey, and Universities Australia must reverse their shameful decision to not commit to further NSS Surveys. University students across the country need regular and independent reports and surveys  which contain recommendations for University Management, alongside strong action to end sexual violence on campus, informed by these recommendations from experts.”

Universities Australia Chief Executive Catriona Jackson has responded to the report, “As a sector, we have undertaken a significant amount of work to address and prevent sexual harm on campuses, including launching the world-first, sector-wide Respect.Now.Always. Initiative.”

In July, End Rape on Campus submitted an open letter to Anthony Albanese calling for an “independent oversight and accountability mechanism with a mandate to address sexual violence at universities”. The open letter outlined that the mechanism must be independent, lead by experts, have authority to compel transparency and implement meaningful sanctions. A myriad of student representative groups and activists signed on to the letter, including the National Union of Students, the Sydney University SRC and Women’s Collective.

End Rape on Campus has previously spoken to Honi, and welcomed the renewed commitment to justice, prevention and adequate response from the government. Sharna Bremner, End Rape on Campus co-founder, said “It’s been an issue for decades and I think uni students in particular have really been leading the work to address sexual violence more broadly and for years.

“It’s amazing to see now that what they’ve been doing is finally being recognized, but also what they face at a university level is finally being recognized on a broader scale too, because they’ve been screaming about it for years and nobody’s been listening.”