*Check against delivery*
I’d like to acknowledge that we are meeting on the traditional land of the Kulin Nation, and I pay my respects to Elders both past and present.
Sexual harm is a societal problem, and we all have a responsibility to act – as a sector, as individual institutions, and as individuals.
That is what occasions like this are all about – coming together as a sector to learn, to discuss and to act to reduce instances of sexual harm on our campuses.
Every person has the right to be and feel safe at work, at their chosen place of study, and in life generally.
Every person who attends university has the right to believe they will be treated with respect, dignity and fairness.
Sadly, this is not always the case.
We know sexual harm continues to occur in university communities, with existing research indicating that women aged between 18 and 24 experience sexual harm at over twice the national rate.
But these instances are not limited to campuses.
It occurs in students’ own homes, in residential colleges, on public transport, and in pubs and clubs – these are the places where students live, work, study, travel and socialise.
No instance of sexual harm should be tolerated, and our institutions must set the tone for what is expected from our students.
Too many students have experienced sexual harm, not only in their time on campus, but away from university and over the course of their entire lifetime.
We know this because, as a sector, we have not shied away from confronting this issue.
In 2016, Universities Australia launched the Respect. Now. Always. campaign to raise awareness of sexual harm.
Two surveys, Change the Course and the National Student Safety Survey, were a feature of that work and gave universities an evidence base to guide their actions.
Australian universities were the first in the world to commission a whole-of-sector survey on the prevalence of sexual harm in university settings and this built on decades of work on individual campuses – work that told us we had to do more as a sector.
It led to universities implementing hundreds of initiatives and measures to prevent and better respond to sexual harm.
These include better reporting and evidence collection processes, consent training, respectful relationship education for students, stronger guidelines for relationships between supervisors and students, and overhauling the way reports of sexual harm are handled by a university.
This is good progress, and we are continuing to work hard to make our campuses safer and more secure.
The people in this room today – all of you – have been pivotal to that work, and will continue to be because there is always more we can do.
We know that, and we will continue to do what is required to reduce the instances of sexual harm on our campuses.
Guiding our work are the findings of the surveys I have mentioned.
These findings are confronting, but they bear mentioning as a reminder of why we must keep going with this important work.
Almost half our student population has experienced sexual harassment at least once in their lifetime.
One in six students have been sexually harassed since starting at university.
One in 20 students have been sexually assaulted since starting at university.
Even one instance is too many.
We know that meaningful cultural and behavioural change does not happen overnight.
A big part of driving change starts with the victim-survivors who bravely come forward to share their experiences, and I want to acknowledge them today.
Thank you for coming forward.
Our work in conjunction with victim-survivors, schools, workplaces, governments, and sexual violence experts is critical to achieving the change we need in Australian society.
Which is why as a sector we are focused on finding ways we can change the attitudes that inform the very real and lived experiences we are seeing in these survey statistics.
This comes down to prevention.
We must continue working hard to prevent sexual harm and eliminate the destructive attitudes that foster it within our universities.
In absorbing the results of the last National Student Safety Survey, as a sector we have reflected on what else we can and must do.
A big part of that is engaging with expert partners as well as survivor and student advocates on future measures. This work is ongoing.
After the last National Student Safety Survey, Universities Australia committed to five actions to further drive our work in addressing sexual harm on campus.
These actions include:
- Renewing our commitment to fund the partnership with OurWatch and continue the Educating for Equality program.
- Facilitating additional student leader training in the lead up to the NSSS.
- Rolling out the Safer Online: Awareness to Resilience training in collaboration with the Office of the eSafety Commissioner to address concerns of online safety and abuse.
- Developing a sexual harm prevention strategy with funding from the Department of Social Services.
- Updating the 2018 Guidelines for Responding to Sexual Assault and Sexual Harassment.
The revised guidelines were completed earlier this year and are now available to the sector.
And today, we are launching the sexual harm prevention strategy – a new evidence-based good practice guide that aims to address the drivers of sexual harm and promotes respectful relationships.
The decision to proceed with a good practice guide, rather than a prevention campaign, was informed by the findings of research we conducted.
The research strongly indicated that a broad, homogenous campaign for the entire sector would unlikely have the cut through required to be effective in shifting behaviours and attitudes regarding consent and respectful relationships.
I would like to personally thank Rameeza Barnes, Universities Australia’s Senior Policy Analyst, Safety and Wellbeing, for her considerable work in guiding the development of the good practice guide, as well as members of the working group for bringing it to life.
These are the latest initiatives in a long list of policy frameworks, good practice guides and other resources Universities Australia has developed with experts on behalf of the sector to assist universities in combating sexual harm on campus.
It is important work that we all have a responsibility to carry on.
And while Universities Australia has historically taken a lead in guiding the sector’s efforts in this space, we acknowledge that our universities have a strong understanding of their own unique demographics, their campuses and their students, which is why they are very well placed to continue building on the extensive work undertaken to date.
Can I thank you again for your attendance today – it really does reinforce the importance you all place on this issue.
That is testament to you, your institutions and the strong desire we have as a sector to do better by our students.
Let’s continue in our efforts on prevention as well as providing support, compassion and fairness to all victims of sexual harm in our institutions.