People protesting sexual assault at the University of Sydney in Australia.

Photo via usydwoco/Facebook

Australian universities to release campus data on sexual assault

The news has helped ease some of the survey’s contention.


Samantha Grasso


All 39 universities in Australia will release individual data on campus sexual assault collected as part of a 2016 survey from the Australian Human Rights Commission.

According to BuzzFeed News, the survey was commissioned by Universities Australia, the body representing university interests, and received input from 39,000 students. The survey also received 1,846 individual submissions from students detailing their individual experiences.

Which, according to sexual assault advocates, is a part of the problem. BuzzFeed News reported that while the survey received ethics approval, the submissions portion of the survey did not, leaving advocates to criticize Universities Australia and say it “exploited rape survivors” with “grossly unethical research.”

Advocates also voiced concern that these submissions would not lead to concrete recommendations for universities to implement in order to stop campus sexual assault, and that the survey report would not include such recommendations. According to the Guardian, the commission had decided to frame this section in its final report as “areas for action” instead.

“I was led to believe that recommendations would be made and each university dataset would be released. To learn that the goal posts have shifted after already participating suggests that survivors have been lured into participation under false pretenses,” Nina Funnell, an Australian Human Rights Community award recipient, said at a meeting of advocates and survivors on the issue. “It’s equally disturbing to discover that the nine-page submission questionnaire never got ethics approval”

Abby Stapleton, a member of the commission’s working group for the survey, told BuzzFeed News that the objectives of the survey shifted from public to private interest when Universities Australia paid the commission $1 million for the survey and rebranded the survey’s slogan, moves that appeared to take the focus off sexual assault survivors.

“The interference from UA has allowed vice chancellors and university management to escape blame and use the survey as a ‘tick the box’ measure, to make it look like they’re doing something about sexual assault on campus when they’re not,” Stapleton said.

However, because the commission conducted the submissions process instead of Universities Australia, they argued that ethics approval was unnecessary. Sex Discrimination Commissioner Kate Jenkins also clarified that the commission will include recommendations despite the terminology having caused “confusion among students.”

Though the public release of individual campus data was not originally required, Universities Australia clarified in a news release published Wednesday, April 5, that all 39 campuses have agreed to publicly publish the information. The commission said the survey report will be finalized mid-2017 and will be published concurrently with individual campus data.

“This work was led by Vice-Chancellors, and so it should come as no surprise that all universities will release their institutional data,” Universities Australia CEO Belinda Robinson said in the release. “Sexual violence is a community-wide problem and university leaders are stepping up to the challenge.”

H/T BuzzFeed News

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