Violence against women in universities
Going to university is often regarded as one of the most exciting moments in our lives. However, not everyone has a pleasant experience. In March 2011 The NUS (National Union of Students) released the initial findings of their "Talk About It" (new window) report, which, surveyed over 1500 female students from Australian universities.
The report revealed that a high percentage of female students have experienced either sexual harassment, some form of sexual and physical assault or unwanted obsessive behaviour. The report paints an informative picture of the less-than-positive aspects of university life experienced by female students.
The following are some of the key findings from "Talk About It":
- 86% of respondents had experienced unwanted sexual comments
- 25% of respondents had had "unwanted physical contact of a sexual nature"
- 25% of respondents had experienced sexual harassment several times
- 67% of participants mentioned that they had been physically mistreated, such as being slapped or shoved
- 12% of respondents reported that they had been "choked, dragged, strangled or burnt"
- 26% of respondents reported that they had been "kicked, bitten, hit with a fist or something that could hurt them"
- 17 % of respondents said that they had experienced rape
- 31% of respondents said they were unable to consent during a sexual experience
- 67% of respondents had had an "unwanted sexual experience"
What is perpetuating all of this?
The report demonstrates that violence against women can happen anywhere. Violence against women has been a longstanding issue in universities, but it hasn’t ever been properly addressed. The survey also showed that sometimes victims know the perpetrators, who could be an acquaintance, friend or even a partner.
There are several factors that lead to violence against women in universities. Carolyn Worth, Convenor for the Centre Against Sexual Assault (CASA) Forum and manager for the Southeastern Centre Against Sexual Assault, and Courtney Sloane, NUS’s National Women’s Officer, both strongly argued that violence against women has been an ongoing issue in society.
Courtney says that it’s "a symptom of a culture of disrespect towards women". Both also agreed that certain environments in universities make women more vulnerable to attacks.
Such environments include dark and quiet areas outside or inside buildings, narrow corridors and even bus stops. One survey respondent pointed out that it was unsafe to stand alone at the bus stops with minimal lighting. Carolyn and Courtney both pointed out that university students occupy university spaces with many different people, which can be dangerous.
Do these offences get reported often?
Sexual harassment and assault is a daunting and distressing experience that leaves a dark imprint in victims’ lives. Women generally don’t report or even speak to anyone about sexual assault or harassment experiences. Carolyn said that only 1 in 10 victims would inform someone.
Courtney pointed out that some victims don’t report the offence because of peer pressure, because "women feel the pressure not to be socially stigmatised". To avoid this stigmatisation, women believe that they shouldn’t report assault.
Furthermore, there are existing issues with existing support services and preventative measures provided for victims of sexual assault and harassment. Courtney says that some universities are unable to support counselling services because of funding issues, but even when universities do provide support, the report revealed that some victims aren’t satisfied with the services.
Some survey respondents mentioned being dismissed or being made to feel by counsellors that it wasn’t an important issue. Furthermore, victims are often unsure about who to speak to or how to report something, while some are even unsure about what actually constitutes sexual harassment and assault.
How does assault affect victims?
Sexual assault can affect a victim in many ways. Victims can suffer from mental breakdown, depression and a distorted sense of self-esteem. Carolyn says that sexual assault affects each individual differently and adds that recovery can take a long time.
Some victims, Carolyn says, feel "uncomfortable around groups of men" and "uneasy about many social situations where they were comfortable before, so it affects people’s capacity to really mingle with people and to socialise."
Moreover, Carolyn says that some victims blame themselves for the attack, which fosters mental health and wellbeing issues. Furthermore, these attacks also affect students’ studies.
How can victims recover?
Victims of sexual assault or harassment should seek help from counsellors or speak to someone they trust, because communication is the first step to recovery.
Carolyn advises that it’s important “to be kind to yourself? and not to burden yourself with so many problems, because the more problems you have to face, the longer it takes to recover. When you need to relax, you should relax.
Carolyn says that women are resilient and able to solve issues by communicating with close friends and family.
If you know a friend who has suffered from assault, you should let them know that you are available to talk about it with them if they want to. CASA emphasises the importance of listen to your friend and letting them know that you believe them, and that you don't think that they are responsible for what has happened.
More information on how to help friends who have been assaulted, as well as other sexual assault resources, can be found on the CASA website's Resources page (new window)
How can I protect myself and others?
Carolyn says there are some simple but effective ways that students can protect themselves and others, including:
- Going to places together (especially places that are dark or not well lit)
- Waiting at bus stops together
- Informing each other of your whereabouts
- Driving your friend/s back to their house
- Making sure your friends are safely in their cars and watching them drive off
What does NUS recommend for universities?
Courtney stresses that women shouldn’t be solely responsible for their safety. She recommends that universities equip themselves with more upgraded services and security by:
- Developing a centralised information package for women, explaining what sexual assault and harassment actually is, and the services the university provides
- Creating an online service that lets women report offences anonymously
- Making university campuses safer
- Providing transport services after hours
- Providing more training for support personnel
Violence against women in universities is widespread. Students should be aware of their surroundings. If you feel your personal safety is threatened, it’s important to report it to your university counsellors.
There isn’t any shame in reporting an assault case because reporting is prevention, and it’s vital to look after yourself and your friends. Remember - you should always seek support because you don’t need to feel you need to deal with problems alone.
Where to get help
If you have been sexually abused or know of someone who has, there are plenty of services available to give support.
- Centre Against Sexual Assault (CASA) - To find the centre nearest to you visit the CASA website (new window) or phone 1800 806 292 (24hrs)
- Family Planning Victoria - Phone (03) 9660 4700 or 1800 013 952 or visit www.fpv.org.au (new window)
- Australian Childhood Foundation - Visit www.childhood.org.au (new window) or phone (03) 9874 7922
- Child Protection (for children and young adults) - Visit the Child Protection website (new window) or phone 131 278
Articles Written by Hsin-Yi
Reviews written by Hsin-Yi
The content of these stories and articles are provided for information and entertainment purposes only. The views expressed are those of our roving reporters/editorial team members and do not necessarily reflect those of the Victorian Government. While every endeavour is made to ensure the currency, accuracy and authenticity of content, it can not be guaranteed. The Victorian Government does not accept any liabilities for any loss, damage, cost or expense you or others might incur as a result of the information or advice (or the use of it) on this website or in the articles. People using the site should undertake responsibility for assessing the relevance and accuracy of its content.