VU responds to report into university sexual assaults

Almost half of all Victoria University students who responded to a survey reported being harassed last year, with a quarter reporting incidents taking place either at or travelling to or from the university.

More than 500 VU students took part in the ‘Change the Course’ study by the Australian Human Rights Commission, released on Tuesday.

The national study of more than 30,000 students was undertaken following pressure on Australian universities to tackle sexual harassment and sexual assault on campus.

The study found women at VU were far more likely than men to experience sexual harassment, with most offences occurring on public transport on the way to or from university.

The victim knew their perpetrator in four in ten cases in a university setting, usually a fellow student.

The survey found 7.3 per cent of VU respondents were sexually assaulted at least once in 2015 or 2016, including 0.7 per cent in a university setting.

Only five per cent of respondents sought support and assistance from VU and even fewer made a formal complaint.

About half said that they had ‘little or no’ knowledge about where at the university they could report sexual harassment or assault or seek support and assistance.

Victoria University vice-chancellor Peter Dawkins said the university has a zero tolerance approach towards sexual assault and sexual harassment.

“Our first concern is for the wellbeing of students who have experienced, and are affected by, sexual harassment and assault,” he said.

“This kind of behaviour hurts and devastates peoples’ lives.”

Professor Dawkins said the university was committed to improving services for reporting and seeking help.

It will establish a central point of response and support, provide specialist training for security staff and implement the ‘Respect and Responsibility: Preventing Violence Against Women Ten Point Plan’.

Universities Australia chair Margaret Gardner said the 10-point plan will ensure students who experience and report unacceptable behaviour receive the right support.

“This report tells us that, while much has already been done, we have more work to do to prevent sexual assault and sexual harassment in student communities.”

Professor Dawkins said the survey results may prove distressing for students, staff and others who have experienced of sexual harassment or assault.

Support is available via:

  • VU 24/7 student counselling 9919 5400, staff counselling 1300 327 288
  • National university support line: 1800 572 224
  • 1800 RESPECT: 1800 737 732
  • Lifeline: 131114
  • Beyond Blue: 1300 224 636