UWA working group tackles sexual assaults in university

When a woman says no, she means no.  The UWA has formed a working group to tackle sexual assaults and harassment on its campus.
When a woman says no, she means no. The UWA has formed a working group to tackle sexual assaults and harassment on its campus.

UWA says a working group is examining ways of improving the safety of students, staff and visitors after new figures revealed an alarming number of sexual harassment and sexual assault incidents at universities across Australia.

Data released by the Australian Human Rights Commission last week showed one in five students had been sexually harassed while in a university setting last year.

Of the 30,000 university students surveyed from 39 Australian universities for the Change the Course report, 1.6 per cent said they were sexually assaulted on at least one occasion in a university setting in 2015 or 2016.

At UWA, 2.2 per cent of the 1509 students surveyed said they had been sexually assaulted at the university at some stage in 2015 or 2016, while 51 per cent said they had been sexually harassed in 2016.

A UWA spokesman said the results of the survey were confronting, but the problem was known and the Safety on Campus working group, established nine months ago, had been examining ways to improve safety.

“New initiatives are being put into place already – we are implementing them as each one is finalised,” he said.

“An example of this is the “Ask for Angela” initiative for patrons of the tavern at UWA.

“If anyone is feeling unsafe, pressured or harassed, they can see a staff member and ask for “Angela”, a code word for seeking assistance.

“Other initiatives include security escorts, a 24/7 service for anyone to request a security guard to accompany them on campus, free counselling services and a round-the-clock assistance phone hotline.”

Just six per cent of students surveyed believed universities provided clear direction on sexual harassment procedures and support services.

Sex Discrimination Commissioner Kate Jenkins said it was important that victims of sexual assault and harassment were given the support they need.

“The evidence is clear that universities need to do more to prevent such abuse from occurring and to build a culture that responds appropriately to these incidents by supporting victims and sanctioning perpetrators,” she said.

The UWA spokesman said the university’s working group would examine ways to better inform student about available services.