With O Week celebrations underway at universities across Australia, sexual harassment campaigners are warning students to be aware of their behaviour.
Industrial advocate Miles Heffernan, from Sexual Harassment Claims, said young people drinking to excess in an exciting new environment with lots of new people can be a recipe for bad, and even illegal, behaviour.
“You can just imagine a young person who no longer has to go to school, is drinking and partying, and all of sudden forgets that overstepping sexual boundaries is not on,” he said.
“Unfortunately at this time of year, we see an increase in complaints of sexual harassment and sexual assault on university campuses.”
Half of all students sexually harassed
A 2016 Australian Human Rights Commission report found half of all students had been the victim of sexual harassment that year, with a quarter happening in a university setting.
One in 15 reported that they had been sexually assaulted.
New program to promote healthy relationships
In a bid to tackle the problem, Universities Australia has announced it is trialling a new online respectful relationships program it is developing with Our Watch, an agency dedicated to preventing violence against women.
Chairwoman Margaret Gardner advised students to look out for each other during orientation events.
“O Week is meant to be a time for new friendships and fun experiences before getting into study for the year – but we also want all students to be safe,” she told AAP in a statement.
“I want to be very clear once again: to any student who thinks it’s okay to have sex without the other person’s consent, think again. It’s not.”
The new relationships education program is being developed solely for students in Australian universities, and is based on research from experts in violence prevention and online learning.
Students will test it over the next 18 months.
“Sexual violence affects every country in the world – preventing it is a global challenge and our universities have stepped up to play their part,” Universities Australia chief executive Catriona Jackson said.
“No single program on its own can bring about change and that’s why this training will work in concert with a comprehensive university sector-led program to enhance counselling services, reporting policies, training for staff and wider violence prevention efforts.”
Most Australian universities now offer counselling services, and almost all have set up their own sexual assault and harassment task force.
Students have a right to a safe learning place
Mr Heffernan said students have a right to a safe learning place, free of sexual harassment.
“Anyone who does experience this sort of unlawful conduct should know there is help available – because no one should ever have to put up with sexual harassment, whether they are at work, school or university,” he said.
If you have experienced sexual harassment or sex discrimination, you may be entitled to compensation.
For help and advice, please call our specialist team at Sexual Harassment Claims on
1300 463 866
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