Research explores sexual violence and tertiary education settings

Mon 09 Oct 2017

A survey carried out by Thursdays in Black Aotearoa New Zealand has explored students' experiences of sexual violence prior to and while enrolled ...

A survey carried out by Thursdays in Black Aotearoa New Zealand has explored students' experiences of sexual violence prior to and while enrolled in tertiary education.

The report, In Our Own Words: Student experiences of sexual violence (2017) was released in August.

Over 1400 responses were received to the online survey. Izzy O'Neill, National Coordinator of Thursdays in Black and lead author on the report, said the results indicate "unacceptable levels of sexual violence and [provide] direct insights into the intersecting cultures that foster sexual violence prior to and during tertiary education." (page 5) Many students did not report the sexual violence or seek support. Respondents also reported that sexuality education they had received at high school was inadequate.

The report includes an executive summary and findings on:

  • "Views on sexual violence within student communities
  • Experiences of high school sexuality education in Aotearoa
  • Histories of sexual violence prior to tertiary education
  • Experiences of sexual harassment while in tertiary education
  • Experiences of sexual assault while in tertiary education
  • Violence specific to minority gender, sexes and sexualities
  • Ableism and discrimination specific to people with disabilities
  • Experiences with support services
  • Experiences of reporting"

The report makes seven recommendations for urgent action:

  • "Universal access to consistent, best practice sexuality education for all secondary school students.
  • Universal sexuality education for all tertiary students as a responsible community integration approach and a practical commitment to students’ right to study free from sexual violence.
  • Consistent policies for addressing complaints of sexual violence.
  • Universal access to culturally appropriate support services for all students.
  • Commission of annual independent institutional reviews of sexual violence as experienced by tertiary students.
  • Freedom to undertake independent academic research into sexual violence within student and campus communities.
  • Ambitious and aspirational commitment from institutions to prevent sexual violence in their communities."

Izzy O'Neill said "… students in secondary and tertiary education are learning about consent, their rights, and their autonomy far too late in life, if at all." She also noted "the domino effect that substandard inadequate or poor quality sexuality education has on students’ participation in education, academic success and retention at both a secondary and tertiary education levels." (page 4)

Related information

The Accident Compensation Corporation (ACC) recently provided $1.4 million for a three year partnership with the New Zealand Union of Students’ Associations (NZUSA) to prevent sexual violence in tertiary education settings.

Radio NZ reported that "NZUSA Executive Director Alistair Shaw outlined a three-year action plan including reviews of educators' policies on sexual harassment and violence prevention, improving reporting and support systems, and providing training programmes for all staff and students."

Australian research

A report, Change the course: National report on sexual assault and sexual harassment at Australian universities, has recently been published (Australian Human Rights Commission, 2017). A national survey measured the experiences of over 30,000 students across all 39 universities, in the first attempt to examine in detail the scale and the nature of the problem in Australia. It found around half of all university students (51%) were sexually harassed on at least one occasion in 2016, and 6.9% of students were sexually assaulted on at least one occasion in 2015 or 2016. A significant proportion of the sexual harassment experienced by students in 2015 and 2016 occurred in university settings.

Selected media

'Dangerous, antisocial and often unlawful behaviour', Radio NZ, 22.08.2018

University event to address sexual violence on campus, Newshub, 21.09.2017

Tackling tough issues the wrong way, Otago Daily Times, 31.08.2017

'No point' in reporting sexual violence, students say, Radio NZ, 25.08.2017

Survey gives new insight into sexual violence in New Zealand education, Newshub, 24.08.2017

Image: Pexels