University of New England Vice-Chancellor says AHRC findings into sexual harassment and assault at university are 'shocking'

One in two University of New England students surveyed claim they were sexually harassed last year, a new report reveals.

The landmark Australian Human Rights Commission study questioned more than 500 UNE students, with 50 per cent reporting to have been sexually harassed and 16 per cent stating harassment occurred at university.

UNE Vice-Chancellor, Professor Annabelle Duncan labelled the findings, released on Tuesday, as “shocking”.

“Sexual harassment and assault are occurring at UNE at higher rates than we understood,” she said.

“These findings are shocking. This sort of behaviour is abhorrent and unacceptable.”

Of those UNE students who reported to be sexually harassed in 2016, 13 per cent said they were exposed to unwelcome touching, hugging, cornering or kissing, while 8 per cent reported inappropriate physical contact. 

Thirty-four per cent of sexual harassment in Armidale occurred on college, compared to a national average 3 per cent on other colleges.

The study received more than 1800 submissions and gathered data from around 30,000 students across 39 Australian universities. Nationally, almost a third of sexual harassment reported occurred on university grounds or in teaching spaces.

SEXUAL HARASSMENT REPORT: University of New England Vice-Chancellor, Professor Annabelle Duncan said the findings were 'shocking'.

SEXUAL HARASSMENT REPORT: University of New England Vice-Chancellor, Professor Annabelle Duncan said the findings were 'shocking'.

Professor Duncan said the data provided a starting point to search for solutions.

“No one should have to experience sexual harassment or assault as the price of a good education,” she said.

Sexual harassment and assault are occurring at UNE at higher rates than we understood.

Annabelle Duncan

Professor Duncan said she would work with staff, students and experts to address the findings, and in particular to ensure that there is a clear expectation that sexual harassment and assault are never permissible.

“I urge any recent or future victims of sexual misconduct to report their experiences,” she said. 

“We cannot address a problem that we do not know about. We will support you.”

The report includes nine recommendations on areas for action and reform – eight of which are directed at universities and one of which is aimed at colleges. 

These include establishing a sector-wide investigation into residential colleges.

“We found that college settings are a particular area of concern, particularly for women who were four times as likely as men to have been sexually assaulted in this setting,” Sex Discrimination Commissioner Kate Jenkins said.