New figures show the University of New England has the highest rates of sexual assault in the country.
The Australian Human Rights Commission released a report on Tuesday, revealing 4 per cent of local respondents claimed to have been sexually assaulted at UNE in 2015 or 2016 – compared to a 1.6 per cent national average.
A further 6.2 per cent reported to have witnessed a sexual assault in 2016, and 22.4 per cent said they had no knowledge about where to seek support or assistance within the university.
UNE Vice-Chancellor Professor Annabelle Duncan said she was shocked with the findings.
“These findings are shocking,” she said on Tuesday.
“This sort of behaviour is abhorrent and unacceptable.”
More than 23 per cent of students said they knew nothing about UNE’s policy on sexual assault.
Accounting student Ian Payne is from Pennsylvania and said he believed sometimes some of the responsibility falls on the individual.
“I think it’s primarily up to the individual, how much they let somebody have bodily contact with them and where they draw the boundaries,” Mr Payne said.
“I think the university could do more awareness programs.
“Since more than 30 per cent is happening in the colleges, the colleges could implement some measures which help reduce that.
“I don’t have any concrete ideas so I don’t know the exact settings.”
Armidale local and teaching student Brandy Ritch said the figures were surprising.
“I’m shocked by this,” she said.
“I’m not living at college here so I suppose I don’t see a lot of that side of things.
“I have some friends on college and they say at the start of the year they are all given information about how to deal with the issue of sexual assault.”
Agri-business student Giacomo Pippo lives on college at Wright Village.
“[The statistics] are probably a couple of years consecutively from what I’ve heard,” he said.
“All reports are coming through on Facebook … every second post is about it at the moment.
“If you think of it spatially there’s quite a lot of paddock between the uni and colleges and isn’t exactly very well monitored.”
Mr Pippo said he “wouldn’t know the first place to go” to report an incident or find help.
“I think they’re trying to smash out social media awareness right now,” he said.
“I knew universities weren’t the safest place to be walking around at night but I didn’t know UNE was that bad,” primary teaching student Macy Anderson told Fairfax Media.
“I probably will never walk around by myself at UNE.”
Ms Anderson, who doesn’t live on campus, is in her third year of studies but said she wasn’t completely sure of the help available for sexual assault and harassment victims.
“There’s buttons in the light poles, I think, that call security,” she said.
“I guess you would call that first and then call the police.”
Melissa Ingham, of Dubbo, also lives off-campus and said she wasn’t familiar with the university policy on sexual assault and harassment.
“I guess don’t walk alone, especially at night,” she said.
“I’m not sure what the uni could do to help solve the problem.”
Biomedical student Naomi Maheu believed colleges should do more.
“I wasn’t aware that was an issue here,” she said.
“I think awareness at colleges is important, during O Week.
“I was living on college but I only applied for a trimester 1 contract.”
International nursing students Alvin Isip, Jennifer Tulnuan and Surya Acherya said the findings were alarming.
“We would have not expected that considering this is Australia, a first-world country,” Mr Isip said.
Ms Tulnuan said she had seen a push for awareness by the university during her time on campus.
“The only awareness I know about is they are sending us an email about sexual harassment,” she said.
“They have some posters in the toilets giving us general information but that’s it.”
Fairfax Media has contacted the university regarding what services are available at the UNE Medical Centre on the issue of sexual assault and harassment, and are awaiting a response from the Vice-Chancellor.
SEXUAL HARASSMENT FINDINGS
One in two University of New England students surveyed claim they were sexually harassed last year, a new report reveals.
The landmark Australian Human Rights Commission study questioned more than 500 UNE students, with 50 per cent reporting to have been sexually harassed and 16 per cent stating harassment occurred at university.
UNE Vice-Chancellor, Professor Annabelle Duncan labelled the findings, released on Tuesday, as “shocking”.
“Sexual harassment and assault are occurring at UNE at higher rates than we understood,” she said.
Of those UNE students who reported to be sexually harassed in 2016, 13 per cent said they were exposed to unwelcome touching, hugging, cornering or kissing, while 8 per cent reported inappropriate physical contact.
Thirty-four per cent of sexual harassment in Armidale occurred on college, compared to a national average 3 per cent on other colleges.
The study received more than 1800 submissions and gathered data from around 30,000 students across 39 Australian universities.
Nationally, almost a third of sexual harassment reported occurred on university grounds or in teaching spaces.
Ms Duncan said over the past year, UNE had responded to the Universities Australia Respect. Now. Always. campaign by improving trauma counselling and response services, enlisting student leaders in the campaign against sexual misconduct, and reviewing the university’s Sexual Assault Response Plan and improving its after-hours bus services for college students.
“These actions were only ever a start, and in light of the AHRC report, we clearly have to expand the scope of our response,” Ms Duncan said.
“We fully accept the AHRC’s recommendations.”
The report includes nine recommendations on areas for action and reform – eight of which are directed at universities and one of which is aimed at colleges.
These include establishing a sector-wide investigation into residential colleges.
“By the time the next AHRC survey on sexual misconduct on Australian campuses is released in three years’ time, I want UNE to be a leader in campus safety,” she said.
“We have an energetic decades-old college system, a beautiful campus and an outstanding university that consistently leads Australia in the quality of the experience it provides to students.
“We must not allow these attributes to be degraded by sexual harassment or assault.”
“The unavoidable conclusion of the data we have gathered across all 39 Australian universities is that incidents of sexual assault and sexual harassment are occurring at unacceptable rates at Australian universities,” Sex Discrimination Commissioner Kate Jenkins said.