LGBTIQ+ uni students more likely to suffer sexual assault and harassment

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Image: University of Sydney Women's Collective

Australian universities must prioritise the safety of LGBTIQ+ students after shocking new survey findings, peak group LGBTIQ+ Health Australia said.

Last year, the Social Research Centre surveyed 43,819 university students for the National Student Safety Survey.

Results this week show one in six Australian university students had experienced sexual harassment since starting their degree.

And one in 20 students were victims of a sexual assault. However, only 6% of those assaulted lodged a formal complaint.

Gold Coast’s Bond University had the highest rate of sexual assaults (13.2%), followed by Canberra’s Australian National University, and Townsville’s James Cook University.

Sadly, LGBTQ+ students were more likely to experience sexual harassment and sexual assault in university contexts.

The survey found 39.7% of pansexual students, 33.1% bisexual students, 23.3% of students who were unsure or questioning their sexuality, and 22.9% gay or lesbian students had been sexually harassed at university, compared with 13.0% of heterosexual students.

Trans and gender diverse students also reported higher rates of sexual assault in a university context.

The primary effects were significant mental health impacts, the report says, including on self-esteem, self-confidence, and unhealthy relationships with substances.

‘Universities are failing LGBTIQ+ students’

LGBTIQ+ Health Australia CEO Nicky Bath said “the current systems are failing LGBTIQ+ students.”

“Universities should be safe places for our communities. The research continues to tell us this isn’t this case,” she said.

“Although these numbers are shocking, they are not surprising given what we know about the experiences of LGBTIQ+ people and communities.”

Bath said survey data from major LGBTIQ+ community survey Private Lives 3 tells a similar story.

So too did the Australian Human Rights Commission’s recent Set the Standard report into the workplace culture of federal parliament.

“Our experiences and our needs must be prioritised in prevention and response,” Bath said.

LGBTIQ+ Health Australia (LHA) is the national peak health organisation in Australia for LGBTIQ+ people and communities.

Nicky Bath said the organisation “stands with all victims and survivors of sexual assault and sexual harassment.”

‘I am sorry for what you endured’

The report, released this week, outlines a number of recommendations to combat sexual harassment and assault.

These recommendations include improving awareness on mechanisms for reporting and support and challenging cultures that normalise or excuse sexual violence.

After the report’s release, Universities Australia head Professor John Dewar apologised to uni students.

“On behalf of Universities Australia and its 39 members, I am deeply sorry,” Professor Dewar said.

“To every single university student who has experienced sexual harassment or sexual assault, or has a friend, family member or loved one who has – I am sorry.

“I am sorry for what you endured.

“I am sorry for how that may have affected your relationships, your mental health, your studies and your life.”

LGBTIQ+ Health Australia wants commitment from political parties

LGBTIQ+ Health Australia also called for commitment from political parties and candidates ahead of the next federal election.

Nicky Bath said they commit to policies that support the health and wellbeing of LGBTIQ+ people.

This must include a plan to prevent all forms of family, domestic and sexual violence.

“That requires the next National Plan to End Violence Against Women and Children to include LGBTIQ+ people,” Bath said.

“And funded, targeted actions that specifically address violence against our communities.”

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