STUDENTS are speaking out after data revealed the University of New England has the highest rates of sexual assault in the country.
On NeverOK Day, students, staff and security signed a pledge against sexual assault and harassment at Australian universities.
University of New England Student Association president Koady Humphreys said universities have been complacent about the issue for too long.
“The day after those horrible statistics came out, all of a sudden the colleges were covered in the Respect. Now. Always. posters,” Mr Humphreys said.
“It suddenly became an issue in the eyes of the university.
“It wasn’t until they got nudged by basically the media, being slammed with everything, that they actually started taking action.”
Four percent of local survey respondents said they had been sexually assaulted at UNE in 2015 and 16, the Australian Human Rights Commission report revealed.
A significant spike considering the national average of 1.6 per cent.
The University of New England has developed a sex-based harassment policy in response to the national survey.
The policy aims to deal with reports of sexual assault and harassment with a victim-led approach.
But, UNESA president Koady Humphries said the issue is one that is still largely swept under the rug in society.
“We saw the data, and no matter where we sat on the ratings it’s a serious issue that more awareness needs to be put towards,” he said.
“A lot of people aren’t aware of what sexual assault is – whether they’re the victim or the perpetrator.
“That data really shone the light on the issue and I think more and more students are actually talking about it now which is the best thing.”
BSMS, a security company contracted by the university, also stepped up their game.
Security guards Zain Hasin and Dale New signed the pledge on Tuesday.
“It’s good to be able to show our support, sometimes we aren’t even made aware that it’s happening, so if we can increase our presence that helps,” Mr New said.
When the data was released earlier this month, 22.4 per cent of students at the University of New England said they were unaware of where to seek support.
NeverOK Day aims to shine a light on these types of issues, and provide links with referral services for survivors of sexual assault and harassment.
“It’s empowering not only yourself to bring awareness to the issue but others,” UNESA president Koady Humphreys said.
“Ensuring that the voice of it’s NeverOK rings in people’s ears.
“What kind of impact could that have? It could have a significant impact.”
The Express has contacted the University of New England for comment.