Thousands of students across Australia have been randomly selected to take part in a National Student Safety Survey to prevent sexual assault and harassment in universities.
The National Student Safety Survey is an initiative launched as part of the world first, sector-wide campaign, Respect Now Always.
Students will be randomly selected from universities to participate in the survey including 10, 000 UTS students.
The survey is currently live and students will have until Sunday (October 3) to submit their surveys with results expected in early 2022.
Universities Australia has funded the Social Research Centre to conduct a national survey on student perceptions of safety and their experiences with sexual assault and harassment. This year’s survey will build on the 2016 National Student Safety Survey and has been re-designed in collaboration with leading violence prevention expert Anastasia Powell from RMIT.
The findings from the survey will help to determine the extent of the issue, the context of behaviours and better inform universities on how they can improve their responses.
What the survey is seeking to do is to get an honest insight into what prevalence looks like for young people.
Program manager for Respect Now Always, Catharine Pruscino said the survey will ask questions about participants and their personal experiences with sexual assault and harassment in a space where they can feel safe and supported.
“There have been efforts made to accommodate people who might be traumatised including counselling services but we want to make it clear that there’s no obligation to do the survey,” said Ms Pruscino. “In fact, there is value for people who have never experienced sexual violence to complete it as well, because what the survey is seeking to do is to get an honest insight into what prevalence looks like for young people.”
Respect Now Always is just one of the many university-wide programmes that will benefit from further research into student experiences with sexual assault and harassment.
“If we know what those experiences look like, the more information we have and the more we can work with people to put in response measures,” said Ms Pruscino.
The first National Student Safety Survey conducted by the Australia Human Rights commission in 2016 revealed ‘a concerning picture of the nature and prevalence of sexual assault and harassment in Australian universities.
The results revealed that around half of all university students (51 per cent) were sexually harassed on at least one occasion in 2016, and 26 per cent experienced this in a university setting.
I would like to think that the results will be improved, but the rate of culture change is really slow.
A concerning 6.9 per cent of students surveyed said they were sexually assaulted on at least one occasion in 2015 or 2016.
While the Resect Now Always initiative at UTS has made efforts since the last survey including compulsory ‘consent matters’ training, Ms Pruscino said she has to prepare herself for the reality that this year’s survey results may be unchanged.
“I would like to think that the results will be improved, but the rate of culture change is really slow and it’s not because the goals of students and the goals of staff are different, we all want the same outcome,” said Ms Pruscino.
This year’s survey comes at a time where consent and gendered violence is at the forefront of national media discussions. An independent enquiry in Parliament house following rape allegations from staffer Brittany Higgins resurfaced discussion about consent and early intervention strategies.
Nationwide protests demanding greater accountability and better consent education as well as efforts from consent advocate Chanel Contos have seen efforts to improve sex education programmes.
Ms Pruscino said she has noticed a cultural shift since developing conversations around sexual assault and consent in the media which she believes will have a lasting positive effect:
“There has been an absolute shift toward the positive in terms of people having these conversations and being comfortable… what people in 2017 and 2018 were comfortable with is fundamentally different from what people in 2021, 2022 and 2023 are going to be comfortable with because they have the language, they’re comfortable using it and they are happy to engage and I assume that will have a flow-on effect.”
Main image by Brunel University/Flickr.