NUS joins EROC, Fair Agenda to call for national taskforce to prevent sexual assault on campus

The National Union of Students (NUS) has joined with sexual harm advocacy groups End Rape on Campus (EROC) and Fair Agenda to call for an independent taskforce to address universities’ failures to prevent sexual assault and sexual harassment (SASH) on campus.


The National Union of Students (NUS) has joined with sexual harm advocacy groups End Rape on Campus (EROC) and Fair Agenda to call for an independent taskforce to address universities’ failures to prevent sexual assault and sexual harassment (SASH) on campus.

This is part of the NUS’ submission to the Australian Universities’ Accords, which also recommended legislating a National Duty of Care to make universities legally responsible for students' safety and welfare.

The submission recommends that the government “establishes a taskforce aimed at the prevention and response to rape on university campuses”. The taskforce would assess institutions’ responses to the National Student Safety Survey (NSSS), and would also have the power to intervene and “to mandate action from universities in response to the sexual assault crisis”.

The NSSS surveyed students nationwide on their safety from sexual assault and sexual harassment on university campuses. The survey found that one in six students in Australia have experienced sexual harassment since starting university, and one in twenty have experienced sexual assault. 43.3% of these incidents happened in “general campus areas”.

Some victim-survivors chose not to report their experiences over concern that the university will not have the victim/survivors' best interests at heart”.

The NUS’ campaign for a national taskforce is a joint effort with Fair Australia, End Rape on Campus and The Hunting Ground Australia Project, with the groups acting on key recommendations from the Australian Human Rights Commission’s 2017 Change the Course campaign.

The advocacy bodies involved in the campaign insist that any taskforce be independent of both universities and on-campus residences. Advocates say the taskforce must be expert-led with input from all stakeholders (including students) and include appropriate accountability and transparency mechanisms, requiring the reporting of anonymous data on the number of incidents that occur.

Whilst there is an existing body related to enforcing minimum student safety standards at universities — the Tertiary Education Quality and Standards Agency (TEQSA) — EROC founder and director Sharna Bremner told EdCon attendees that TEQSA was “the most ineffective regulatory body that I’ve ever come across.”

“It’s embarrassing at this point,” Bremner said, labeling the agency “actively harmful”.

Whilst TEQSA does “accept” complaints from students failed by their university’s sexual harm response policies, TEQSA doesn’t label itself as a complaints resolution body. As such, students seek services from the University they attend. 

Discussions calling for a national taskforce aren’t new, despite the wave of submissions to the Accords this year. The taskforce campaign was launched in 2018, as detailed in EROC’s 2018 Red Zone.

Speaking to Farrago, Bremner said a national taskforce was “necessary” as the current process is “more harmful than helpful”. She labelled “national oversight” of universities’ responses to sexual harm a “need”, with a specific focus on college and on-campus safety required.

“Colleges refuse to provide any information on what they’re doing… we know colleges are a place where most sexual assaults take place”.

The University of Melbourne’s Sexual Misconduct Report did not specifically mention clubs and colleges, despite stating that 39.7% of harassment occurs in “general campus areas”. Nationally, 25.3% of “most impactful incidents” occurred on “student accommodation or residences”.

A national taskforce would create a separate body with a mandate to publish results and statistics from each University campus. It could also analyse the intersections of assault and harassment on campus with disability and queerness, with disabled and queer students found by the NSSS to be more likely to experience sexual assault and harassment.

“Universities have failed at this issue,” Bremner said.

“Non-binary students and trans students are at a significant risk… We haven’t seen one university do that well”.

Bremner specifically called out University of Melbourne Vice Chancellor Duncan Maskell’s recent email to students regarding graffiti and vandalism on campus.

“When we have property damage taken more seriously than the safety of marginalized people on campus, we have a large problem.”

Bremner argued that Maskell condemned the graffiti on campus more than the NSSS' findings of sexual violence at the University, which she claims is a reason as to why these bodies have to be independent.

Bremner spoke at one of two EdCon workshops dedicated to sexual assault and harassment prevention at EdCon, as part of an ongoing push for SASH reform on campus.

The Fair Agenda petition calling for a national taskforce on sexual harassment and assault at universities can be found here.



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