How Australian universities address sexual assault on campus

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A drawing done by a sexual abuse victim
A drawing done by a sexual abuse victim is seen next to a stuffed toy, at the appeal court in Phnom Penh August 18, 2010. . Reuters/Chor Sokunthea

Canberra universities have pledged action to tackle sexual assault on campus or residential colleges. The news comes after a survey of university students in Australia revealed that the vast majority of sexual assault cases were from the Australian National University.

On Tuesday, ANU vice-chancellor Brian Schmidt apologised to all those who had been sexually harassed or assaulted on the university's campus. "What we have seen today is unacceptable for any college on this campus and we need to hold ourselves - every part of this university - up to external scrutiny so we are better," he said.

The ANU promised to implement all the nine recommendations listed in Human Rights Commission's report. These include a plan for tackling the drivers of sexual assault and harassment that universities must develop.

The report also recommends that universities must ensure information is collected and stored in private with vice-chancellors to get regular reports on the data. Furthermore, universities must commission an expert-led review on behaviours in residential colleges.

University of Canberra vice-chancellor Deep Saini affirmed his commitment to address the challenge of sexual harassment. He said his institution would "digest" the findings of the National university student survey on sexual assault and sexual harassment in the coming weeks to determine the next steps it should take. "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 Canberra Times quotes Saini as saying.

The report, released by the Human Rights Commission on Tuesday, revealed that 2,100 students were sexually assaulted during the past two years. It found that women were four times more likely to have been sexually assaulted than men in university residence.

Sex Discrimination Commissioner Kate Jenkins said the conclusion of the data, collected across all 39 Australian universities, is that sexual assault and sexual harassment cases are happening at unacceptable rates at Australian universities. Jenkins revealed that a woman who was raped by a senior student leader later found that he had previously raped other female students. No action had been taken.

Another woman who reported sexual harassment by a fellow student to her supervisor was told she should take it as a compliment. The reports further revealed that only 6 percent of respondents thought their university does enough to provide clear direction on sexual harassment procedures and support services.

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