Media release: CAPA calls on universities to put resources into fighting sexual violence on campus
One year on from the release of the Australian Human Rights Commission’s report on sexual violence in universities, the Council of Australian Postgraduate Associations (CAPA) calls on universities to respond with more than just lip service.
The 2017 report, Changing the Course: National Report on Sexual Assault and Sexual Harassment at Australian Universities, provided a comprehensive look at the extent and nature of sexual violence at Australian campuses. Among postgraduate students, 45% reported being sexually harassed, and 5% reported being sexually assaulted in the year prior to the survey. One in ten postgraduate students who were sexually harassed at university reported that the perpetrator was a tutor or lecturer from their university. Postgraduate students were four times as likely as undergraduate students to be harassed by a colleague when working at the university, and three times as likely to be harassed by a supervisor as part of a work placement.
Students and activist groups have continued to apply pressure on universities to act to address the systemic problem of sexual assault and harassment in university communities.
We recognise the significant work undertaken by the sector in the wake of the survey. However, we are concerned that universities continue to drag their feet on this issue. Some universities are more concerned about the optics of implementing response measures than they are about the number of students being assaulted each day. Others have made strong public statements but have failed to implement evidence-based and properly resourced measures.
Last year, we released a series of recommendations to universities to address the issue of sexual violence in university communities. We are encouraged to see some of the recommendations are reflected in most universities’ responses, including creation of university taskforces which include student representation, administration of first-responder training to staff, and commitment to a follow-up survey in three years. However, one year on, in light of the limited progress which has been made, we call on universities to implement the following six measures:
1. Provide adequate funding for counselling services to have specialised staff and reasonable waiting periods, including same-day sessions for students in crisis;
2. Allow former students to access their usual on-campus counselling if they withdraw from studies for mental health reasons;
3. Monitor incidents at on-campus residences and university-affiliated colleges, and sever relations with colleges which fail in their duty of care to students;
4. Develop a policy disallowing romantic/sexual relationships between supervisors and research students;
5. Implement mandatory training on ethical supervision for all staff that are research supervisors; and
6. Consult with postgraduate student representatives in the development of materials and policies relating to the sexual assault and harassment on campus, recognising that research students are particularly vulnerable due to the student/supervisor relationship.
“We need to see university counselling services with enough staff that students don’t have to wait for months to be seen – instead, we are seeing some universities pour money into flashy but ineffective resources such as off-the-shelf consent modules and mobile apps with links under-funded services,” says CAPA National President Natasha Abrahams.
“Universities have collectively admitted that there is a problem with sexual violence on campus – now it is time to address the problem with concrete actions.”
For comment: CAPA National President Natasha Abrahams
M: 0430 076 993