Media releases

Abuses of power by staff leads to sexual violence against postgraduates

1 Aug 17

The findings from today’s release of the Australian Human Rights Commission report into sexual assault and sexual harassment at Australian Universities paints a concerning picture for students according to the Council of Australian Postgraduate Associations (CAPA). While the results from this survey will not come as a surprise to many student leaders they do provide the groundwork needed to make real change.

For CAPA one of the greatest concerns is the prevalence of sexual harassment and assault that is perpetrated by staff on campus toward postgraduate students.

  • 10% experiencing sexual harassment from a tutor or lecturer
  • 5% experiencing sexual harassment from a non-academic staff member
  • 4% experiencing sexual assault from a fellow university worker and,
  • 3% experiencing sexual assault from a supervisor

These results indicated that sexual violence from staff towards postgraduate students was higher than towards undergraduates. What’s worse is that given undergraduates outnumber postgraduates almost 3:1 is that these numbers present a grim story for the student/staff relationship at this level.
The power imbalance between research students and staff at the postgraduate level is a long-standing issue for Australian Universities.

Reporting is also a recognized issue within this report with many universities having vague or absent reporting structures when it comes to sexual assault and sexual harassment. For postgraduate students, whose supervisors hold their career in their hands, this is also an issue of a power imbalance and fear.
CAPA’s 19 recommendations to address the issues of sexual assault and sexual harassment are aimed at enabling students to report these issues without fear of reprisal.

CAPA will work with Universities Australia, The Australian Council of Graduate Research, and Vice-Chancellors to ensure that this issue is put to an end.

CAPA National President Peter Derbyshire says: 
“For anyone that has spent time with postgraduate students they will know it is the worst kept secret in academia that such behaviour occurs.”

“I have spent almost 5 years representing postgraduate students and there are always these stories about but students are too afraid to speak up. Under the current structures there is nothing to protect a student from reprisals in their career if they do report these issues.”

CAPA Womens Officer Alyssa Shaw says: 
“Bullying and harassment are commonplace by supervisors and teaching staff are well-known and prevalent issues in Universities. But now we have evidence to support what has been long denied or overlooked, that sexual harassment and assault are also prevalent amongst postgraduates, particularly from university staff.”

“Sexual assault and sexual harassment is insidious and systemic within all Australian Universities and more action is needed to address this issue than what has been announced today. Universities should be looking to CAPA’s recommendations if they want meaningful and substantive change.”

Students in need of help or support can call Universities Australia’s 24/7 phone line on 1800 572 224, or visit their university’s dedicated counselling service – details of which can be found at University Australia’s ‘Where to seek help at your university’ web page.

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For Comment: CAPA National President Peter Derbyshire, 0435 047 817, e: president@capa.edu.au