ANU sexual assault, harassment reports rise in wake of damning survey

| 18.09,18. 02:10 PM |



ANU sexual assault, harassment reports rise in wake of damning survey



Photo: The university released data on reports, but End Rape on Campus says it needs to be clearer. (ABC News)


The Australian National University has been met with criticism after refusing to provide more information on figures showing a "significant increase" in reports of sexual assault and harassment on campus.


Both the ANU and student advocates put the rise in reporting down to greater awareness of the issue in the wake of last year's Human Rights Commission (HRC) survey, which showed the ANU had one of the highest rates of assault.


The university's own data in its recently published Dean of Students Annual Report shows the number of contacts with the office for sexual assault and harassment stood at 32 last year, compared to 23 in 2016.


The report, which called the increase "significant", clarified its data represented "alleged perpetrators as well as students disclosing an incident", with the actual number of incidents about 85 per cent of that — which would make it 27.


But when contacted by the ABC, the ANU would not confirm the number of alleged incidents, nor the breakdown of how many were assaults and how many were cases of harassment, citing privacy reasons.


"As the total number of visitations is small, any additional information provided would risk revealing details of specific sexual assault or sexual harassment cases," a spokesperson said.


The advocacy group End Rape on Campus (EROC) pointed out the ANU did release a breakdown of its results from the HRC survey last year, revealing there had been at least 52 assaults on campus in 2015-16.


That data was separate to the information collected in the Dean of Students reports.


EROC spokeswoman Sharna Bremner said smaller data sets for assaults had previously been reported without privacy concerns, and the ANU was not living up to its commitment to transparency.


"That doesn't tell students what they need to know," she said.


"What they need to know is how many assaults are occurring, what the university is doing about it, not individual visits to the Dean's office that sort of doesn't tell us a lot about prevalence rates at the ANU."


Mr Bremner said she believed the ANU's figures failed to give the full picture of the problem.


"I think those figures are probably low, we know that students don't report to the university for a number of reasons but it is good to see an increase in reports because it means the message is getting through that they actually can," she said.


In the wake of the survey, the ANU mounted a concerted push to address the problem, overhauling its policies, setting up a dedicated unit and appointing an on-campus rape counsellor.


It also ordered a review of student residences, which is yet to report.


A member of the ANU's Respectful Relationships Steering Committee, James Connolly, said increased reporting by students would allow the university to find gaps in its response.


"Whilst every critical incident is a tragedy and is unacceptable and it is clear that the university sector, and the ANU in particular needs to do more, it is a good thing that this is an increase in reporting," Mr Connolly said.


This is the first year the ANU has published reports of "sexual assaults and harassment", it has previously reported "unwanted sexual attention" since 2014.


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