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Universities Australia announces new guidelines for reporting sexual harassment

The sexual harassment and assault of university students in Australia has been the subject of discussions in the media this month, after Universities Australia announced a new set of guidelines for the reporting of such crimes.

While issues around sexual misconduct have been heating up with the recent #MeToo movement across the globe, Australian officials are also calling on lawmakers to address faulty processes in the criminal justice system to better support the victims.

Surveys reveal alarming sexual harassment statistics

According to a survey conducted by the Respect. Now. Always. initiative, only two percent of students who experienced sexual harassment reported the instance to their university. The same survey showed that only nine per cent of students who had been sexually assaulted reported the abuse.

In 2017, the Australian Human Rights Commission conducted a sweeping independent survey that alarmed universities across the nation. The results showed that one in five students were sexually harassed in a university setting in 2016.

Women were three times as likely than men to have been sexually assaulted in a university setting. 94 percent of those sexually harassed and 87 per cent of those sexually assaulted did not make a report or complaint to the university. 

The new guidelines

The alarming numbers revealed in recent surveys in large part fuelled the decision by Universities Australia to create additional guidelines on the reporting of such behaviour in universities nationwide.

The guidelines attempt to put the needs of victims of sexual crimes at the centre of university practises surrounding the matters. At the forefront of the initiatives is awareness across campuses and support for victims. Advice for university staff mentioned in the guidelines include:

  • Showing compassion for victims and providing support and assistance. 
  • Ensuring student-facing staff have skills necessary to respond to disclosures and reports.
  • Minimising the number of times a student is asked to recount the events.
  • Consulting with students when developing relevant policy.

The hope is that bringing awareness to these issues will create a safe place for students to report sexual misconduct when it occurs.

Other calls to action in Australia

The new guidelines for university students were announced after the Australian Lawyers Alliance (ALA) called for sexual assault law reform earlier this month. The ALA claims the issues go beyond consent, which has been the focus of many recent cases and discussions around sexual harassment.

The ALA concluded that the current criminal justice system is failing the victims of sexual assault, and pointed to the NSW Law Reform Commission to take action against the problematic processes.

If you have been a victim of sexual assault, get in touch with the lawyers at Gerard Malouf & Partners Compensation, Medical Negligence & Will Dispute Lawyers for assistance.

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Gerard Malouf & Partners
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