Almost a quarter of La Trobe University students were sexually harassed on campus last year, while 1.7 per cent were sexually assaulted during the past two years, data released on Tuesday has revealed.
Of the students who responded to the Australian Human Rights Commission survey, 30 per cent said they had been harassed at or on the way to university in 2016, but only 4 per cent of those said they sought support from the institution after the most recent incident.
The most common reason for not seeking support was “I did not think it was serious enough”, but 15 per cent of students who experienced harassment also said they did not know where at the university to turn for help.
Almost 1000 La Trobe students participated in the survey – along with thousands of others from universities across Australia – but it is not known how many of those attend the Bendigo campus.
The most common forms of harassment were inappropriate staring or leering, sexually suggestive comments or jokes and intrusive questions about a victim’s private life or appearance, with other La Trobe students making up 73 per cent of perpetrators.
The report highlighted “instances of senior students in leadership positions sexually assaulting or sexually harassing other students” at Australian universities and called for a review of how “college ‘traditions’ facilitate a culture which may increase the likelihood of sexual violence”.
But Loddon Campaspe Centre Against Sexual Assault chief executive officer Kate Wright said the statistics were likely a reflection of dynamics that existed in other workplaces and society as a whole.
“University is the same as a new employee at a company, it’s about power and control and it’s looking at the gender imbalance and the inculcated power that a man has,” she said.
“The newer students don’t have as much knowledge or information so are more vulnerable, so it’s reflecting what happens here in the community – where the power lies is where the abuse occurs.”
In a joint statement with student association heads from across the state, the university said it welcomed the report’s findings, but acknowledged they “make for uncomfortable reading”.
“We are committed to learning from the national and local survey results and taking action to prevent and appropriately respond to sexual assault and sexual harassment on campus,” the statement reads.
“The report makes a number of recommendations, which we are currently reviewing. Some are already being implemented.”
If you, or someone you know is in immediate or imminent danger on campus contact police on triple zero (0 000 from office phones) then campus security on extension 2222 or 9479 2222.
Counselling services are available at the Bendigo campus on 5444 7223.
For support with recent or past experiences of sexual assault or abuse, call LCCASA on 5441 0430 or the Victorian Sexual Assault Crisis Line after hours on 1800 806 292.