Adelaide Uni Commits to Releasing Data from Sexual Assault Survey

Report by Tom Haskell and Jenny Nguyen

Content Warning: Sexual Assault.

A day after it was discovered that Universities Australia were under no obligation to release the findings from a nationwide survey on the rates of sexual assault and harassment on campus, all 39 Australian Universities have committed to releasing the data.

The survey, Respect. Now. Always. national university student survey on sexual assault and sexual harassment, was conducted in partnership with the Human Rights Commission which featured a working group including members of the National Union of Students (NUS). The survey had some 39,000 respondents from female students around Australia. Due out in mid-2017, the results from the study are expected to document the degree to which sexual assaults and harassment occurs on campus. NUS alleges that ‘a significant component of the research never got ethical approval’.

When launched in August of last year, Universities Australia said that “The campaign has three key elements: raising awareness of sexual assault and sexual harassment and lifting the profile of support services for students; obtaining prevalence data to guide further improvements in policies and services; and assisting universities to share resources and best practice across the sector.”

Following a flurry of outrage from student unions across the country, all Australian universities have now committed to releasing their university’s individual data from the survey.

Adelaide Uni had been named as one of only 4 universities who did not respond to Hack’s question of whether they will be releasing this data. This has since been answered with Adelaide promising to make this data available.

The initial lack of transparency in the divulgence of these results has been a source of frustration for those who participated in the survey. In a press release sent to On Dit, Nina Funnell spoke to Imogen Grant, USyds current Women’s officer who said that survivors have told her that they feel “misled” by the assumption that the survey would produce concrete recommendations. This coupled with the fact that many survivors spent a great deal of time and effort detailing horrific and violent experiences shows an overall dissatisfaction with the methodology, distribution, and subsequent lack of recommendations from the survey.

In a media release sent to On Dit, Universities Australia Chief Executive Belinda Robinson said that “the commissioning of this survey by university Vice-Chancellors last year reflects their commitment, and determination to address and prevent sexual assault and harassment”.

Universities Australia had also committed $1m worth of funding to this survey, a move which is now being criticised as duplicitous by NUS. Current Women’s officer for NUS, Abby Stapleton, remarked that this commitment was “problematic from the get go…the release of the survey has become more about protecting the branding of universities rather than protecting the students”.

Further criticism of the survey’s methodology relates to concerns that specific behavioural questions surrounding sexual assault were not included. Dr. Anastasia Powell from RMIT argues that this will produce underreporting and ignores the best practice outlined in a US White House paper on sexual assaults on campus.

In response to this, the Human Rights Commission claimed that they “sought and received ethics approval for the national survey from the Human Research Ethics Committee at the University of New South Wales.” Further, they also claimed that “our processes met best practice standards for survivors of sexual assault and harassment” by consulting with 1800RESPECT and Rape and Domestic Violence Services Australia.

Adelaide University’s Women’s Officer, Tamsin Anspach, told On Dit that the involvement of Universities Australia was a “clear effort to influence the results of the survey”. She also stated that recommendations have not surfaced from this survey despite the fact that it “appeared that they would”. Anspach cites the handling of this survey as an example of how universities aren’t held accountable.

On Dit is still yet to receive a response from the Vice-Chancellor’s office, however Adelaide Uni has committed to releasing the dataset to students as soon as it is made available.

EDIT 6/4/17 9:52pm: Deputy Vice-Chancellor, Pascale Quester responded to our enquiry by providing a link to Universities Australia’s media release on the matter.

If this article has raised any issues for you or someone you know, please call one of the services listed below:

  • Yarrow Place for counselling and 24 hour support on (08) 8226 8787
  • South Australia’s Victim Support Service on (08) 8231 5626
  • 1800RESPECT on 1800 737 732
  • Lifeline on 13 11 14