Editorial: Australian Human Rights Commission’s report shows universities are failing our students

YOU do not need a university degree to interpret the deeply concerning results of the Australian Human Rights Commission’s report into sexual assault and sexual harassment at universities.

The 264-page report, following a survey of more than 30,000 students, shows conclusively that there is a culture of sexism and entitlement prevalent in this country’s higher education institutions.

It is this culture, left unchecked for far too long, that means a staggering one-in-five students have experienced sexual harassment in a university setting, and 1.6 per cent have been sexually abused.

The report, released yesterday, found women were three times more likely to be sexually assaulted and twice as likely to have been sexually harassed than their male counterparts. One respondent to the survey, which covered 39 universities, said: “Catcalling, leering and inappropriate comments just seem like daily and sometimes unavoidable experiences for most young women.”

A sexual assault survivor noted: “I did not report…I had no idea who to confide in and I was made to feel like it was all my fault, that I deserved it.”

Another, quite rightly, declared: “We should not have to feel unsafe on our campus.” 

Everyone who sets foot on a university campus has the right to go about their studies without being subjected to abuse and harassment.

Sex discrimination commissioner Kate Jenkins describes the impact of sexual assault and sexual harassment as having a “devastating impact on individuals – physically, emotionally and psychologically”.

She says that for students, many of whom are living away from home for the first time, the consequences can be “severe” in terms of completing their studies and pursuing future careers.

The commission’s report contains nine recommendations aimed at ensuring universities have the appropriate measures in place to educate students about inappropriate and illegal behaviour, while also equipping people in positions of authority with the skills to respond effectively.

Sexual assault and sexual harassment are a scourge right across our society, but the revelations these crimes are being committed in such numbers by supposedly our “best and brightest” is nothing short of a disgrace.

- Ross Tyson, deputy editor