Creating a safer university environment for all

16 May 2016

The University of Sydney today published the results of its Safer Community For All survey.

Conducted in September 2015, the survey is the first of its kind to be commissioned by an Australian university and was developed in collaboration with the Student Representative Council, the University Student Union and women’s officers, with guidance from the Australian Human Rights Commission.

The University invited all currently enrolled students to complete the survey in order to gauge students’ experiences of sexual harassment and assault, and gather feedback on the University’s procedures for reporting and student support. The survey was analysed independently by two current PhD students at the University, who produced the report and its five recommendations.

The findings from the survey were consistent with other similar surveys conducted in Australia. Of the 1,926 students that responded, one in four reported having experienced an incident of sexual harassment or assault while enrolled as a student, and 6.2 percent of all respondents had experienced an incident on campus or at a University-related event.

The survey also revealed that only 18.9 percent of students who had experienced an incident reported it to anyone.

In an email sent to all students today, Vice-Chancellor Dr Michael Spence affirmed the University’s zero tolerance policy on harassment within the University community.

“It is alarming that one in four of our students who responded are victims of any form of sexual harassment or assault. The low rate of reporting is also quite troubling,” he said.

“Behaviour that is intimidating, abusive, disrespectful, or threatening, including any instance of sexual harassment or assault, is absolutely not acceptable within our community or on our campuses.”

The Safer Community survey report put forward five recommendations, which were endorsed by the University’s Senior Executive Group in February.


  • The University develops a clear statement regarding acceptable behaviour on campus that is complimentary to, but separate from, the existing Student Code of Conduct.
  • Clearer communication mechanisms established to routinely reinforce to students their responsibilities under this code, and to reinforce awareness of procedures and protocols for incident reporting and accessing support.
  • A further review of the incident and complaint handling mechanisms to clarify and simplify points of contact and procedures for incident reporting.
  • A review of existing Campus Security with a view to strengthening security and safety measures on campus.
  • That the internal staff consultation and triage hotline be augmented to provide additional guidance to staff on appropriate responses to reported incidents of sexual harassment and assault.

Since then work has already been done on some of those recommendations, in particular to improve the ability of the University to respond to an incident to meet student expectations. Some of the actions taken so far include:

  • The improvement of reporting processes with the new Student Complaints Portal. All complaints handling has been centralised through one area at the University, the Student Affairs Unit and staff have undergone specialised training in how to respond, record and handle complaints.
  • The establishment of an internal staff consultation and triage hotline to provide guidance for staff across the university on incidents and reporting. This hotline gives staff across the University immediate access to crisis expertise to equip them with knowledge and skills if dealing with a student. 
  • Improved safety and security measures on campus, including campus night walks, increased security presence, better lighting in dark areas and access to shuttle buses.
  • Plans to routinely provide updates and awareness-raising reminders about complaints handling and student support services to students through all available communication channels, including Student News and student safety websites.

Of the actions taken, Dr Spence said: “These are important first steps, however there is much more to be done as we work together towards creating an inclusive campus where all students feel safe and supported.”

Sitou Sally

Higher degree research student
  • The University of Sydney