Prove your humanity

If you were sexually harassed or assaulted whilst on campus, would you know how or where to report it?

Horribly, the grim reality is that this is a question that approximately 1 in 10 Curtin students surveyed in 2021’s National Student Safety Survey have been presented with. This number is just slightly below the national average. Even more troubling—Curtin’s results show that around half of the 1,138 students surveyed did not know how to report the incident or access appropriate support. In fact, only 10.6% of Curtin students who were assaulted or harassed sought assistance, meaning the vast majority of the sexual misconduct on campus went unreported and unaddressed.

It is worth noting that the survey classes harassment and assault as two unique experiences, and as such much of the data is split between both offences. Although all gender identities were victims, most students who responded that they had been harassed were those who were not cisgender, with over 1 in 5 of those surveyed reporting harassment. Next were women, where 12.1% faced harassment in their last year at Curtin. Men were also the victims of harassment, with 4.7% surveyed saying they had been sexually harassed in the last 12 months. The only Curtin-specific data on assault was for women, of which 1.8% experienced assault on campus within the last 12 months.

At 46.7%, just under half of the sexual harassment occurred in general campus areas, followed by 16.2% in university libraries, and 16.1% in class environments—like lecture theatres and computer labs. Of those who suffered unwanted sexual attention, 43% knew the perpetrator, but there was no data released on how many—if any—of these assaults led to a formal complaint with the university.

Now that it’s been over a year since these results have been released, what is Curtin doing to address the NSSS’s findings, reduce the frequency of harassment, and increase access to support for victims?

Respect. Now. Always. is a Curtin committee who meets monthly and discusses student issues, including topics like harassment and assault. Currently, they are working on a response to the NSSS with an action plan for 2022 with changes that can be made to the university. Respect. Now. Always. intends for the university to improve staff training on responding to sexual crime, and to rework Respectful Relationships. These changes have not yet been made, but it is the intention that the action plan created by Respect. Now. Always. be implemented across this year.

According to Curtin, some additional modules have been added to Respectful Relationships already to cover the topics of consent, relationships, support services, and how bystanders can intervene in sexual crimes. They also have systems in place to allow students impacted by sexual assault or harassment to defer exams and get extensions on assignments confidentially. Similarly, the university’s staff have been trained with the University Australia training model to ensure that they appropriately respond to support students who report instances of harassment and assault to them. Student representatives have also undergone training, so they are prepared to respond in the most effective ways if a case is disclosed to them. The university has also made an effort to make all students more aware of how to access assistance should they need it, by producing websites, guides, presentations, and orientation activities on the support offered.

Curtin has a Safer Community Team that can be reached 24/7 by anyone who wishes to report an instance of assault, harassment, or wrongdoing. Even if the occurrence was not recent, or not on campus, the team is prepared to best address the situation. The team will assist the reporter in locating the best immediate and ongoing support, and if desired, assistance in formally reporting the crime. The university also has a range of free support services including counselling, psychological, and health services.

In her response to the results of the NSSS, Vice-Chancellor Professor Harlene Hayne said, “I empathise deeply with anyone who has experienced sexual assault or sexual harassment. I also understand that recalling these experiences through completing the survey may have been very difficult. I would like to thank those who shared their stories for their bravery, and I assure them the results will enable Curtin, and all universities, to make campuses safer for everyone.”

If this article has raised concerns about you or someone you know, please contact the Safer Community Team: