NO longer can we pretend that disgraceful cases of sexual assault on university campuses are an issue confined to the privileged colleges of the sandstone universities.
It has been too easy in recent years to write-off the disturbing claims of a rape culture within residences at Sydney University, in particular, as the out-of-touch actions of society’s pampered elite. But no more.
The release of a Human Rights Commission report into on-campus sexual assaults has revealed a crisis that engulfs every university and threatens every student.
Interviews with students at the Charles Sturt University suggested only a massive cultural change within some residences could ever hope to see the crisis resolved.
The Human Rights Commission report laid bare the sickening reality that in any lecture theatre of 100 students, at least one – and possibly two – is likely to have been sexually assaulted in the past two years on campus.
Further, more than one-in-five of them would have been sexually harassed at university in the past year.
In a sign of the scale of the problem and the extent of concern about it, the commission received more submissions than any other inquiry in its history, including more than 1800 accounts from students of sexual assault and harassment.
Universities Australia, the peak industry body, deserves some credit for commissioning the report.
It has promised “strong and swift” action in response.
That includes working with the colleges, more “first responder” training for university staff, specialist training for university counsellors and education for students about sexual consent, and new guidelines for postgraduate-staff interaction.
But there must also be an element of personal responsibility among students. These are not children we are talking about – they are adults making their way in an adult world.
It is not acceptable for perpetrators of sexual assault and sexual harassment to somehow blame the university for not preventing them from offending, just as it would be outrageous for the perpetrators to blame their victims for allowing an assault to occur.
Yes, universities must do better but in the end only one person is truly responsible for a sexual assault – the offender. They are the ones who must really change.