Trigger warning: sexual assault, sexual harassment.
Today, the Australian Human Rights Commission released Change the Course: National Report on Sexual Assault and Sexual Harassment at Australian Universities. This report is the result of last year’s nationwide survey of over 30,000 university students. The University of Melbourne has also released its individual results: you can find the data here, and a summary report here.
While neither I nor GSA as a whole are surprised by the findings of Change the Course, we are both shocked and saddened. We know that sexual assault and sexual harassment have been prevalent for decades in Australian universities, including our own, and often too little has been done to support survivors and prevent incidents from occurring or recurring.
It is deeply distressing to hear that one in five students was sexually harassed in a university setting last year, and 1.6% of students were sexually assaulted in a university setting. In particular, it’s extremely upsetting and confronting to learn that postgraduate students are particularly vulnerable to harassment by lecturers or tutors from their university.
At our own University of Melbourne, students frequently encounter sexual harassment travelling on public transport to and from university, as well as on university grounds and in teaching spaces.
GSA has never hidden from this issue. We have a zero-tolerance policy towards assault and discrimination of any kind. We have always stood for a safe university experience for all, and we have always stood in solidarity with survivors of sexual assault.
It is undeniable that in the past, the University has not done enough to prevent sexual harassment and assault, or to support survivors. However, we also want to recognise the efforts they have already made to do more, and welcome the University’s commitment to adopt all nine of the recommendations in Change the Course.
Sexual assault and harassment is a community-wide problem, and we all need to work together to create a safer university for everyone. That’s why I am participating in the Respect. Now. Always. campaign, and why GSA will be joining the University’s taskforce to plan and implement programs and policies to prevent sexual assault and harassment, and fully support survivors.
As Sophie Johnston, National Union of Students President said today, “We are here to work hand in hand if you want to change culture together”. But also, GSA will hold the University to account, as we demand better for all students at the University of Melbourne.
Everyone deserves to be safe in class, in their residential college, at University social events, and everywhere in between. We all deserve to be respected and supported.
If you’ve been affected by news relating to the Change the Course report, click here to read Women’s Officer Max Bergh’s blog post about how to get help or report an incident.
Georgia Daly is 2017/2018 President of the University of Melbourne Graduate Student Association.