Sexual violence experts join on university sexual assault report
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Sexual violence experts join on university sexual assault report

Dozens of sexual violence academics from throughout Australia have joined to advocate for change in how universities respond to sexual assault and harassment.

RMIT justice and legal studies lecturer Anastasia Powell formed the consortium on the back of the Human Rights Commission's report on sexual violence in university communities. A sector-wide survey found one in five students were sexually harassed and 1.6 per cent sexually assaulted in a university setting in 2015 and/or 2016.

Dr Anastasia Powell.

Dr Anastasia Powell.Credit:Penny Stephens

The Consortium of Australian Sexual Violence Researchers, which has more than 60 members, will release regular evidence briefs to help inform university responses to the Change the Course report.

"We aim to be an independent voice that will advocate for change and sustainable solutions to issues of sexual violence and harassment that we hope that universities will then take on board and use to develop their responses," Dr Powell said.

"We want to make sure that institutions are places of equity, of respect, where the diverse student body can participate and can pursue their education, and whether they've been a victim of sexual violence on or off campus that they're able to be supported to continue their education.

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"I think there's a great deal of work to be done over a long period of time, not just in the coming months, to really inform that process of change."

End Rape on Campus Australia ambassador Nina Funnell commended Dr Powell on establishing the group, adding students and sexual assault survivors had advocated for reform, often alone, "for far too long".

"We need staff, academics and alumni to ally with us," she said.

"The frustrating reality is that vice chancellors often ignore the voices of students and survivors. Staff and academics are not quite so easily dismissed.

"We know that over the last year several academics have felt gagged or at risk for speaking critically of their institution's response to sexual assault. This consortium will provide some protection for more vulnerable academics while also ensuring the presence of a strong united expert voice which can critique university responses."

The consortium, which includes University of Canberra sexual violence expert Professor Patricia Easteal, will release its first paper at the end of August.

Dr Powell said: "Academics are not just employees of university institutions, they are independent scholars working hard on these issues and have been advocates on these issues for a long time, so naturally there's a great concern among the academic community who work in areas of sexual violence to make sure that our own institutions and higher education generally in Australia really is taking a proactive response."

If you or someone you know is impacted by sexual assault or family violence, call the Canberra Rape Crisis Centre on 02 6247 2525. Nationally, call 1800RESPECT on 1800 737 732. In an emergency contact 000.

Emily Baker is a reporter for the Sunday Canberra Times. She previously reported on education for The Canberra Times.