Senate debates

Monday, 14 October 2019

Matters of Public Importance

Girls Takeover Parliament

3:58 pm

Photo of Kristina KeneallyKristina Keneally (NSW, Australian Labor Party, Deputy Leader of the Opposition in the Senate) Share this | Hansard source

Today we welcome 60 young women to Parliament House as part of Jasiri Australia's Girls Takeover Parliament—or women take over parliament, as I think it should be known! My participant is here today: Kate Bomm, a 21-year-old student—in no way a girl but, indeed, a young woman—at the Australian National University who in fact prepared this speech on an issue that impacts many young women, and that is the prevalence of sexual assault on university campuses.

Earlier this year, TheSydney Morning Herald reported the story of a young woman who was sexually assaulted in a residential hall at the Armidale campus at the University of New England. She was asleep in her bed when a fellow student entered her room, climbed on top of her and began kissing her without her consent. After reporting her horrendous ordeal, the young woman was simply told, 'You should probably just lock your door when you're asleep.' Her story is not unique and her experience is not an aberration. Another survivor at the Australian National University who reported her sexual assault to university administration was left in limbo and forced to live under the same roof as her attacker for more than six months. A student at the University of Western Australia was pushed into a bathroom stall at a university social event and forcibly groped. She said: 'It happens all the time on campus. There are so many stories like mine.'

According to the 2018 Red Zone report by advocacy group End Rape on Campus, approximately 200 sexual assaults occur on university campuses each week in Australia. That's an average of 30 students every single day. More damning in the report is that 68 students who live in residential colleges across Australia are raped every week. That is a shockingly common occurrence. In a report released by the Human Rights Commission in 2017 it was revealed that women are three times as likely as men to have been sexually assaulted in a university setting. This sends an appalling message about general attitudes towards women and community safety, particularly the attitude towards our future female leaders. More frightening still is that 94 per cent of students who were sexually harassed and 87 per cent of students who were sexually assaulted did not make a formal report, revealing a huge disconnect between students and university administration. Universities are in a unique position to implement policies to address sexual assault and harassment on campus; however, they are failing in this duty. Instead of amplifying voices through effective policies, they are contributing to a culture of abuse and victimisation in institutions that should be safe havens for young people as they begin the next chapter of their lives.

The Australian National University, a university not four kilometres from where we stand today, an institution which I'm sure a number of people in this building once attended, has a rate of sexual violence double that of the national average. Their response has been manifestly inadequate. Rather than work to improve its capacity to respond, the ANU cut senior university staff members from its residential halls. How can such cost-cutting actions be taken while students are being kept in the dark for months and left to share a home with the perpetrators? Not only is the ANU failing victims of sexual assault and sexual harassment; it is also forcing its students to become the front line in dealing with the burden of receiving disclosures and supporting peers through their trauma.

University is a place where teachers, doctors, engineers, artists and leaders are created. University is a place for creativity, passion and learning. Australia is a world leader in education. Every year we welcome a diverse range of students and academics to our world-class educational institutions. Sexual assault and sexual harassment have no place on our university campuses. We must do more to prevent it. We must take real action in addressing the prevalence of sexual assault and sexual harassment on campus. The recommendations of the Australian Human Rights Council need to be implemented throughout our Australian universities. Students need to feel heard and need to feel safe when making reports to their university, and we need to ensure that university staff and members are able to safely respond to disclosures, reports and critical incidents. At university, education should extend beyond the classroom, and students should have access to information and resources to tackle sexual assault and violence. Australian universities need to step up and prove they care about preventing sexual violence on campus and are committed to reprimanding perpetrators when it occurs. We shouldn't accept, 'It happens all the time,' as an excuse. It's time to stop failing our— (Time expired)


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