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Canberra Rape Crisis Centre records "dramatic increase" in student contacts

The Canberra Rape Crisis Centre has recorded a dramatic increase in the number of 14 to 25-year-olds seeking support for school or technology-related incidents.

Chief executive Chrystina Stanford attributed the rise to a growing awareness of sexual assaults at universities and the prevalence of mobile phones.

As the head of Canberra's only dedicated sexual assault service Ms Stanford was unable to release exact figures for fear of making future contacts concerned about their privacy.

However, "each year there are growing numbers of young people, and those people we're seeing much more in sexual assault services dealing with all sorts of different experiences of violence than what we would've seen in decades before," she said.

"Even last decade at the Rape Crisis Centre the largest group accessing us would've been older women and adult women, but that trend is really changing as we go because of issues with technology and vulnerability and all of the things that we're talking about that go on in universities," she said.

Issues relating to sexting in high schools were "pretty common", Ms Stanford said. Fifteen ACT government schools contacted ACT Policing for help with sexting incidents between July and October last year.

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"There's a real gap in what laws can surround sometimes what are quite serious things such as someone agrees to have sex with somebody else and then that film gets sent all over the country - we've seen some of those issues come up in the high schools here in Canberra," Ms Stanford said.

University students from a number of institutions had made contact with the Canberra Rape Crisis Centre as well.

The Australian National University's Dean of Students Annual Report 2015 collated data from several sources and found 25 incidents of "unwelcome sexual attention" were reported in that year. Eighteen of those occurred on campus, including at ANU or affiliate accommodation, with seven incidents occurring off-campus.

ANU Pro Vice-Chancellor (University Experience) Professor Richard Baker said: "From the Vice-Chancellor down, we have made it clear that sexual assault and sexual harassment are not acceptable at ANU.

"The university is committed to provide a safe, supportive and caring environment free from unwanted sexual attention for all students, staff and visitors to the campus."

A Freedom of Information investigation of police records, detailed in End Rape on Campus Australia's submission to a Human Rights Commission survey on sexual assaults within university communities, found 153 rapes and sexual assaults were reported to police as having occurred at universities, including in the ACT.

A separate FOI investigation found 575 reports of sexual assault and harassment at 27 of Australia's 39 universities resulted in six expulsions.

The University of Canberra and the Australian Catholic University said they took sexual assault claims seriously and encouraged people who experienced sexual violence or harassment to report the incident.

A University of Canberra spokeswoman said: "The University of Canberra has received very few complaints of sexual assault on campus in the last five years.

"Each case has been dealt with appropriately, sensitively and supportively, and students have been referred to ACT Policing."

The Australian Bureau of Statistics estimates women aged 15 to 19 are in the highest risk group for sexual assault and women aged 18 to 34 are more than twice as likely to have experienced sexual assault in the past year than adult women in general.

Fourteen per cent of female survivors will not disclose the assault to anyone.

Canberra Rape Crisis Centre 6247 2525