Opinion: Sexual assault and harassment landmark report marks need for change

A landmark report  by the Human Rights Commission released last week has given a concerning insight into the hidden culture in our education institutions.

The findings into sexual assault and sexual harassment in Australian universities revealed that of the university students surveyed, 6.9 per cent had been sexually assaulted in the past two years.

More than 30,000 Australian university students participated in the survey, which ran from September 2016 to November 2016.

Firstly, I would like to acknowledge the bravery and determination of survivors and their support systems.

Your courage will ensure future generations of university students will be able to both learn and live in a safe environment. After decades of campaigning, your voices will no longer be ignored and I can only hope this will bring you some peace.

But why has it taken so long for this inquiry into these university institutions?

Every year hundreds of thousands of students pour through these education facilities but never have we put the microscope on them. 

The first Australian university, the University of Sydney, was established in 1850. But with such a long history of tertiary education in this country, why has sexual assault and sexual harassment in our university communities been overlooked for so long?

Universities have a duty of care to their students, staff and employees and what this reports shows is the need for a complete overhaul in dealing with sexual abuse and sexual harassment.

Universities need to establish proper and consistently regulated services to students to ensure their learning environment is a safe and secure space. 

There should be legal, medical and counselling services on campus available to all students, and identifying potential risk factors and appropriately addressing them.

On the coal face Western Sydney University (WSU), like many others across the country, have supported the report.

The university will form a taskforce to implement all nine recommendations from the landmark National Report on Sexual Assault and Sexual Harassment at Australian Universities. I praise WSU and other universities across the country moving forward to ensure a safer and brighter future for our students.

  • Meg Francis is a journalist for Fairfax Media’s north-west Sydney group.