James Cook University has acknowledged today’s release of a national student survey on sexual assault and sexual harassment, and has identified a wide range of measures it’s taken to keep students and staff safe.
As part of its Respect. Now. Always. initiative, Universities Australia commissioned the Australian Human Rights Commission to undertake the first national university student survey on sexual assault and sexual harassment.
Vice Chancellor Professor Sandra Harding said the JCU data identified the prevalence of sexual harassment and assault is in keeping with that reported by respondents nationally.
“These survey data show that younger, domestic undergraduate females are at higher risk and most commonly another male student known to the victim is the perpetrator of sexual harassment; and that harassment is more likely to take the form of offensive jokes or suggestive comments; followed by staring or leering; intrusive questions about private life or physical appearance, and unwelcome physical contact. We have also had confirmed for us the areas of higher risk where sexual harassment occurs on university grounds include learning and social spaces and within the residential colleges.
“The data also show that JCU students, consistent with the sector, have often not chosen to report incidents of harassment or assault, commonly because they did not think the incident was serious enough or they felt they didn’t need help.
“What is welcome, no JCU student responded that they felt the University wouldn’t help or take action or wouldn’t take their complaint seriously.
“The survey shows that we need to raise awareness with our students that sexual harassment and assault should not be tolerated. These are serious offences. One incident is one too many and we need to do more to prevent sexual assaults and sexual harassment.
“These results are confronting, and I understand they will be of great concern for staff and students at the University, as well as the wider community.
“No student should experience sexual assault or sexual harassment, and the University is strongly committed to preventing and addressing sexual assault and sexual harassment, wherever and whenever it occurs. We want staff and students to know that if you have been assaulted we will do all we can to support you.
“I want to assure the JCU community, and the wider community, that we have taken, and are taking, steps to make the University safer,” Professor Harding said.
She said the University is examining the survey’s findings to see what more can be done to prevent sexual assault and harassment, and to support students when they seek help.
“The AHRC’s recommendations have affirmed the action we have taken to date to improve student and staff safety. JCU has done, and is doing, a great deal of work to make the University safer for students and staff, but there is always more that can be done.”
To guide this process, JCU has engaged former Sex Discrimination Commissioner Elizabeth Broderick in an external and comprehensive review of the university’s sexual harassment and sexual assault policies, and the cultural environment in which those policies are implemented.
“We have already introduced a wide range of practical measures to enhance safety, and improve the University’s culture and its reporting procedures for any incidents of sexual assault or sexual harassment. The recommendations of the Broderick Review will further inform this work,” Professor Harding said.
Steps already taken include:
- As mentioned, JCU has commissioned an external review by former Sex Discrimination Commissioner Elizabeth Broderick, who is a leading expert on gender equality and organisational culture. Her review will examine the University’s policies and engage with key stakeholders to ensure JCU is implementing strong and effective responses to sexual harassment and sexual assault, and fostering a culture of respect, inclusion and safety for all. The review’s findings will be released later this year.
- Streamlined and improved the University’s internal reporting procedures. This includes a reporting form that has clear guidelines for staff and students if they need to report an incident, that features a reminder on mandatory reporting of any assault involving persons under 18 years of age.
- Improved access to information for staff and students. Launched Safety and Wellbeing website. The website provides information, resources and contacts for anyone who experiences bullying, discrimination, sexual harassment or assault, including information about how to report an incident.
- Increased the number of Equity Contact Officers across JCU from 10 to 47 and launched JCU’s Equity Contact Officers Network.
- Equity Contact Officers are the first point of contact for staff and students who experience any form of bullying, discrimination or harassment, and are based on the Townsville, Cairns and Mount Isa campuses. Officers are trained by the Anti-Discrimination Commission Queensland, and provide information to staff and students on matters regarding discrimination and harassment and bullying, including informal and formal resolution options available.
- Undertaking a review of security at the University’s campuses to provide enhanced security for students and staff. The review of security will assess patrolling, the coverage of the CCTV camera network, amongst other issues.
- The University already provides a high level of security across its campuses, 24 hours a day, including regular vehicle and foot patrols. The security service provides a team of well-trained and equipped uniformed officers, as well as an extensive CCTV camera network. The security service provides escorts after-hours from buildings to car parks or on-campus accommodation for students and staff who have particular concerns, on request. A Queensland Police Beat operates on the Douglas Campus during Semester One and Two, with police available as required.
- The University’s Discrimination, Harassment and Bullying Policy has been revised, providing clearer guidance on acceptable behaviour, issues of consent, and procedures for making a complaint.
- Extending the current after-hours Student Assistance Line for international students to all students. The service provides a wide range of information and contacts for students who are seeking assistance outside of university business hours.
- A ‘Safe Zone’ has been set up for students and staff on JCU’s Townsville campus. The room is a safe place for students who might be waiting for a bus at night, of who feel uncomfortable or threatened, and is supervised by security staff.
- Senior managers and JCU Council members have undertaken a training workshop on matters relating to sexual harassment and sexual assault, as well as the importance of effective policies to promote safety and wellbeing for staff and students.
- JCU is working closely with the JCU Student Association, particularly student advocates, to ensure students are supported when reporting an incident.
- Working collaboratively with residential colleges to ensure appropriate standards of conduct by students who live on campus. JCU’s Student Counselling Service provides training to Residential Assistants (RAs) on respectful behaviour, bullying, sexual harassment, discrimination, consent, and how to report any incidents. Training on these matters is also being rolled out to students who live on campus.
- Reviewing the Code of Conduct for staff and students to ensure a safe and respectful university culture.
- Training has been offered for all staff on the prevention of bullying, harassment and intimidation, as well as sexual harassment prevention, and understanding the staff Code of Conduct.
- Free counselling provided for students and staff.
- Orientation Week briefing for all commencing students explaining commitment to a safe, respectful environment and a zero-tolerance approach to sexual assault and sexual harassment.
- Information added to the Orientation Week guide for all commencing students describing JCU’s commitment to a safe and respectful behaviour
- Training for staff who deal directly with students, including library staff, international student officers and others, explaining JCU’s commitment to a safe and respectful culture, and how to report incidents and refer students to support services.
- JCU app now includes emergency contact details for students and staff.
- Since 2016, JCU has partnered with other Australian universities in a national initiative lead by Universities Australia, the Respect. Now. Always. campaign. The campaign highlights the determination of Australia's universities to ensure students and staff are safe from sexual assault and sexual harassment.
- Students or staff who need immediate support are encouraged to call 1800RESPECT (1800 737 732). This line is available 24/7 and is staffed by qualified counsellors.
For more information please contact:
Head of Media and Communications, JCU
0413 451 475