The “New Guidelines for College Students to Deal with Sexual Assault and Harassment” published by the Australian media pointed out that colleges and universities should support students who report sexual assault and harassment and should put the safety and health of students in the first place. The purpose of this guide is to encourage students to report sexual assaults or harassment they have suffered, and it also provides some suggestions to universities:
- Develop an independent policy to address sexual assault and harassment;
- Encourage students or staff to disclose sexual assault and harassment;
- Minimize the number of sexual assaults and harassment that students experience;
- Provide a variety of ways to protect the safety and health rights of students.
However, these suggestions may not work in local universities. A study by the Australian Human Rights Commission on sexual harassment in universities found that 94% of students who were sexually harassed and 87% of students who were sexually assaulted did not file a written complaint with their university. The results of the 2017 national survey showed that among approximately 30,000 Australian university students, the proportion of students who were sexually harassed reached 51%, and the proportion of students who were sexually harassed within universities accounted for 26%. Among them, 6.9% of students were also sexually assaulted, and 1.6% of students said they had been sexually assaulted on a university campus.
At the same time, the guide does not explain why many college students are unwilling to report sexual assault and harassment, nor does it tell college students how to prevent sexual assault and harassment.
What are the reasons why college students do not report sexual assault or harassment?
In the face of sexual assault and harassment, many student victims are usually ashamed to speak out and are unwilling to report the perpetrator of sexual violence to universities because students:
May be worried that colleges and universities do not believe their reports;
Believed that the violation was “not serious enough”;
Worried that their report will be made public by the university, and believe that the university will not take any action;
Fear of persecution or discrimination by others.
For international students, do they think this experience is “just part of the local Australian culture”. These reasons indicate that college students lack trust in the relevant policies and handling capabilities of colleges and universities.
If college students want to report sexual assault and harassment, they have to face more obstacles: the vision of others (discrimination), their own worries (retaliation and harm), the destructiveness and persistence of sexual assault and harassment. Therefore, how universities can reduce or eliminate these barriers is the key to protecting students from sexual assault and harassment.
How do colleges and universities help students report
Universities should encourage students to report incidents of sexual assault and harassment, while ensuring the safety of students and their physical and mental health, and helping students prevent sexual assault and harassment. Universities should do the following:
Sound reporting mechanism;
Transparent disciplinary guidelines and strong sanctions;
Complete student resources (including psychological, medical and academic aspects);
Formulate a series of preventive measures to strengthen the inclusiveness, diversity and fairness of universities.
These good suggestions mainly come from the 2017 report published by the Australian Human Rights Centre at the University of NSW. The report draws on a two-year consulting research project, combined with national student survey data and related international research results, to respond to and prevent sexual assault and harassment.
How should college students participate in resisting sexual harassment and sexual assault?
In order to prevent sexual harassment and sexual assault within universities and ensure the physical and mental health of students, universities need to have meaningful communication and discussions with students. Students can express their opinions on the formulation, implementation and revision of relevant policies, and universities need to focus on the requirements of students.
Representatives of college students can apply to join the Anti-Sexual Assault and Sexual Harassment Association or the Sexual Violence Prevention Committee. Student leaders play a key role in formulating student-related solutions. In addition, colleges and universities can also offer courses on prevention of sexual assault and harassment to improve students’ awareness of self-protection and prevention. University leaders, students, and staff need to unite, resolutely stop sexual assault and harassment, and support students who dare to stand up and report.