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Change the Course: National Report on Sexual Assault and Sexual Harassment at Australian Universities 2017

The following is a message sent to all staff at the University of Newcastle on Tuesday 1 August 2017, from the Vice Chancellor and President of the University of Newcastle, Professor Caroline McMillen 

"Dear Colleagues

Today, the Australian Human Rights Commission has released the Change the Course: National Report on Sexual Assault and Sexual Harassment at Australian Universities, which reports findings from its national student survey on sexual assault and sexual harassment among university students. 

The survey was commissioned by Universities Australia as part of its Respect. Now. Always. initiative, and received 30,930 responses in total, including 623 responses from University of Newcastle students.

UON is clear that sexual assault is a crime and sexual harassment is completely unacceptable in any context, on or off campus. Everyone has the right to live without fear of sexual assault or harassment.

Today’s release by the Australian Human Rights Commission included a national report, as well as institution-based findings from all 39 Australian universities.

The survey found that 55% of UON respondents reported experiencing sexual harassment in any location during 2016, and 30% of respondents reported that sexual harassment occurred in a location associated with the University. For this group of respondents who had experienced sexual harassment, 29% experienced inappropriate staring or leering, 23% experienced sexually suggestive comments or jokes, and 13% experienced intrusive questions about life/appearance.


The survey also found 8% of UON respondents had experienced a sexual assault at any location during 2015 and/or 2016, and 1.4% of respondents reported that the assault occurred at a location associated with the University. Approximately half of UON respondents knew where to seek support or assistance within the University regarding sexual harassment or sexual assault.


UON’s current support services and education programs to prevent sexual assault and sexual harassment and provide support for survivors include:


  • A student facing portal providing centralised details on reporting incidents and supporting survivors, as well as links to other resources on dealing with incidents of sexual misconduct. The website is available at
  • A simplified online reporting process has been developed. The process enables students and staff to inform UON’s Campus Care through an online form, and provides an option for anonymous reporting.
  • There are two courses currently in place at UON:
    • Consent Matters to help students to seek consent and identify situations where consent cannot be given
    • Responding to disclosures of sexual violence designed to help staff understand consent and some of the common misconceptions around sexual violence.
  • Resident Mentors, Counselling service staff and the Office of the Dean of Students have received specialised training to support students who have experienced sexual assault and harassment.
  • UON proactively engages with students to highlight appropriate sexual behavior and sources for support through a range of initiatives including the information campaign – Play by the rules. 


Working alongside UON’s education and support programs is a suite of safety initiatives including:

  • a 24-hour security shuttle service to escort students across the campus to their car, to a specific location, or to public transport
  • a rolling light upgrade program to ensure coverage for all main pathways and primary carparks
  • a Closed Circuit Television (CCTV) system within the Callaghan Campus, which provides live and continuous footage through to a centrally-monitored facility.

The University is responding to the Change the Course: National Report immediately with the following actions:

  • rolling-out compulsory education programs for all UON students in partnership with student bodies 
  • conducting further quantitative and qualitative research to explore issues that emerged through the Human Rights Commission findings and better understand needs of the broader university community and particular student cohorts
  • implementing a more targeted orientation program for students
  • establishing a UON Community Standards document, which articulates our shared values and expected behaviours of everyone in the UON community.


Today, I am writing to all students and staff about the survey findings and the University’s response. This week, we are holding information sessions for students and staff across our campuses, as well as a community information session for parents, friends and others.


The University’s institution-based data is available at


These findings provide critical information and insights, and we will continue to work with staff, students, survivors and their support networks to address all of the issues raised in the Change the Course Report for Australian universities and for UON."


Professor Caroline McMillen | Vice-chancellor and President |The University of Newcastle