In the wake of alarming survey results about sexual harassment and assault at universities, Curtin Student Guild has called on the university to reform policies and procedures.
Curtin vice-chancellor Deborah Terry discussed issues highlighted by the Australian Human Rights Commission’s National Report On Sexual Assault and Sexual Harassment at Australian Universities at a recent town hall meeting.
According to the report, which surveyed more than 30,000 students across Australia, 21 per cent of Curtin students experienced sexual harassment at university, and 0.3 per cent had experienced sexual assault.
The survey found students were generally most likely to have been sexually assaulted at a university or residence social event.
Professor Terry said she was pleased the report showed zero cases of sexual harassment or assault at Curtin’s student residences but admitted this had been an issue for the university in the past.
Curtin Student Guild president Liam O’Neill, who was also at the town hall meeting, said the main areas of improvement were identified and addressed in the eight recommendations the guild had provided to the vice-chancellor.
“One of the great concerns is that students’ current complaints can take months, if not a year, to be resolved,” said Mr O’Neill.
According to Mr O’Neill, the first two recommendations ask for an increase in resources to Curtin’s Integrity and Standards Unit so complaints of sexual assault and harassment can be addressed in a more reasonable timeframe.
The guild has also recommended the university introduce a compulsory online module about appropriate behaviour and consent for all students and staff.
Curtin academic registrar Jon Yorke said the university would examine the role of alcohol at Curtin social events in compliance with the commission’s ninth recommendation, which urges universities to review “the role of alcohol in facilitating a culture that may increase the likelihood of sexual violence”.
In a bid to prevent sexual harassment and assault at the campus tavern, The University of Western Australia Student Guild recently started the ‘Ask For Angela’ campaign, encouraging students to ask for ‘Angela’ at the bar if they felt unsafe.
Curtin Student Guild women’s officer Elly Bijlsma said the university would not be following in the steps of UWA, due to the high publicity of the campaign, which had ultimately defeated the objective of the discrete plead for help.
Both UWA and Murdoch University said they were working closely with their student guilds to further develop initiatives and programs to prevent sexual harassment and abuse.