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Sexual harassment/assault has no place at our uni: VC

Claudia Doman

1 August 2017: Vice-Chancellor and President Professor Deep Saini said the University of Canberra is strongly committed to preventing and addressing sexual harassment and assault at the institution.

The University of Canberra, along with Australia’s 38 other universities, has released the results of the first-ever national student survey on sexual harassment and assault in the higher education sector.

The report, by the Australian Human Rights Commission (AHRC), is part of Respect.Now.Always, a long-term national initiative to prevent and address sexual harassment and sexual assault.

“Sexual and interpersonal violence have no place at our University,” Professor Saini said.

“Here at UC, we all have the right to a respectful and supportive environment where we can study, work and live safely. It’s up to all of us to make sure we work together to keep our University and our community safe.

“The report shows that there is work to do and the results will help us inform how we can work harder to improve our education programs, our support services, policies and practices.”

The survey ran from September to November last year with more than 30,000 students participating nation-wide. More than 6,000 students from the University of Canberra were randomly invited to participate; of these, 460 students responded to the survey.

The AHRC report found that:

  • 1.1 per cent of respondents from the University of Canberra reported that they experienced sexual assault in university settings during 2015/16.
  • 7.2 per cent of respondents from UC reported that they experienced sexual assault in general during 2015/16.
  • 26 per cent of respondents from UC reported that they experienced some form of sexual harassment in university settings during 2016.

“One incident is one too many,” Professor Saini said. “I would like to thank the students who took part in this survey. Their personal stories will guide us in stepping up our efforts to prevent and address sexual harassment and assault in our community.”

The University of Canberra has a series of initiatives already in place to prevent sexual harassment and assault, and to support those who have been affected:

  • In the past few months, the University has collaborated with the Canberra Rape Crisis Centre to train over 100 staff in a range of areas, from ethical bystander training to self-care techniques. This program is ongoing.
  • UC has set up a ‘healthy relationships’ program of workshops for students living in student accommodation.
  • Students are encouraged to complete the online module course Consent Matters, which aims to educate students on the culture of respectful relationships and a thorough understanding of sexual consent.
  • UC has developed several resources to promote the prevention of discrimination and harassment on campus and raise awareness that UC has zero tolerance to such behaviour.
  • UC has also engaged Elizabeth Broderick AO, former Australian Sex Discrimination Commissioner, to undertake a review of the current culture within the University and of its student body, with respect to sexual harassment and sexual assault. This work will benchmark our processes and support systems against national and international best practice.
  • As a White Ribbon accredited workplace since 2013, the University of Canberra has delivered four training sessions to staff on all forms of violence including family and sexual violence in the past year.
  • In the last two years, the University has upgraded security on its Bruce campus through a range of measures including:
    • A more comprehensive CCTV network across the University, with a 24/7 control room to complement a team of security officers who patrol campus around the clock.
    • A significant improvement in lighting, including floodlighting and sensor lighting, installed across campus, leading to a 30 percent increase in lit areas.
    • Clearing of garden beds and lifting of tree canopies to improve line of sight for people, cameras and light throughout campus.
    • Provision of security escorts upon request for staff and students walking to their cars and bus stops at night.
  • Extra resources have been put in place in our support service areas to ensure adequate support if there is an increase in student requests for assistance over the coming weeks.

Professor Saini said the safety of staff and students is the University’s greatest priority and reminded those who might need help that UC has a range of resources and support services available to them.

He also acknowledged the recommendations from the Australian Human Rights Commission as well as Universities Australia’s 10-point action plan aimed at tackling these issues.

“We will digest the report and its recommendations in the coming weeks and will assess the next steps for our University to build on the initiatives we already have in place,” he said.

“I’m committed to working with our staff and student representatives to address the challenge of sexual harassment and assault at our institution and ensure that our University is a safe, respectful and supportive environment for all.”

The data specific to the University of Canberra and the full national report are available online.