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University of Sydney responds to National Student Safety Survey

23 March 2022
“We will continue to lead a culture of change”: Vice-Chancellor
The Vice-Chancellor of the University of Sydney thanked students for their contributions to the National Student Safety Survey and committed to renewed and targeted action to create a safer and more supportive environment.

“These new survey results and student testimonies highlight the confronting ongoing problem we face in our community and in society in preventing and responding to sexual misconduct,” Vice-Chancellor and Principal, Professor Mark Scott, said.

“They confirm that sexual assault and sexual harassment are primarily perpetrated by men against women. They also highlight that people of diverse sexualities and genders and people with disabilities experience it more often. The impacts on victim-survivors, their education and their lives, are profound.

Frankly, one case is one too many. To every person who has experienced sexual harassment or sexual assault, we are deeply sorry. Every student has the right to feel safe and supported and to be treated with respect and dignity, whether on campus, online or offshore. Anything less is unacceptable.
Professor Mark Scott, Vice-Chancellor and Principal

“We’ve already taken strong action – since 2018 all new students must complete a Consent Matters module and consent workshops are held twice a year for all student leaders and first year students living in student accommodation and residential colleges. We’ve also created a mandatory module for all executive office holders in our many clubs and societies about the drivers of sexual assault and sexual harassment.

“Our policies and processes detail how we will support and protect the safety of survivors, ensure procedural fairness and protect confidentiality, and we have established a Safer Communities Office to provide support to survivors of sexual misconduct. We also employed a Preventative Education Specialist to improve how we increase awareness of issues such as consent and sexual misconduct on campus, and to work with students to design new programs and initiatives.

“It’s encouraging that this action has led to a shift in some areas of our results – more students are seeking support and there seems to be greater awareness about where to obtain support and how to make a report or complaint. However, many issues of great concern remain and this is where we will focus our efforts, to create a safer and more responsive and supportive environment for all our students.”

“Frankly, one case is one too many. To every person who has experienced sexual harassment or sexual assault, we are deeply sorry. Every student has the right to feel safe and supported and to be treated with respect and dignity, whether on campus, online or offshore. Anything less is unacceptable.”

Roadmap for the prevention of sexual misconduct

Emphasising the University’s commitment to continuing to lead a culture of change, Professor Scott said work is beginning on a wider University prevention strategy to be developed and implemented over the next 12 months.

“We are committed to broadening our prevention interventions for sexual misconduct in our community and on our campuses. As an institution of learning, research and knowledge we also have a responsibility to lift understanding and capability in our community to address this problem."

We are committed to broadening our prevention interventions for sexual misconduct in our community and on our campuses. As an institution of learning, research and knowledge we also have a responsibility to lift understanding and capability in our community to address this problem.
Professor Mark Scott

“Our Roadmap will draw on consultation with key stakeholders, with our students at the heart: our student representatives, student leaders, domestic and international students, students from the sexuality and gender diverse communities and students living with a disability. We will also consult closely with our student accommodation providers and affiliated residential colleges, the University of Sydney Union (USU) that oversees clubs and societies on campus, Sydney Uni Sport & Fitness (SUSF) – as well as our own and external experts – to inform our collective approach. The experiences of our students on work experience and placements must also be a focus.”

Significant work will be undertaken to raise awareness and improve transparency of all available reporting options. This includes a key education initiative to deliver appropriate training to all students and staff, so they have the essential skills to be an active bystander/first responder, and to refer people experiencing sexual misconduct to available reporting options and support both inside and outside the University.

The National Student Safety Survey

Commissioned by Universities Australia (UA) on behalf of Australian universities, and conducted by the Social Research Centre, the National Student Safety Survey (NSSS) was conducted online with a representative sample of students and ran across the sector from Monday 6 September through to Sunday 3 October 2021.

National survey results have been released by Universities Australia, and the University of Sydney has also released a summary of its students’ survey responses (PDF, 314 KB) prepared by the Social Research Centre. (When reading the University’s infographic and the NSSS national reports it is important to note that the Social Research Centre calculated relative standard errors – RSE – for its survey estimates. If the RSE was between 25 percent and 50 percent an * appears next to the estimate that indicates caution should be used with the associated estimate. If the RSE was above 50 percent an ** appears meaning the estimate is unreliable and not reportable.)

Professor Scott acknowledged the contribution of students who responded to the survey and the lived experience of students who have experienced sexual assault and sexual harassment.

“I want to personally thank all students who took part in the survey and recognise the courage of survivors who have shared their lived experiences. Your participation has provided invaluable contributions to help us understand the prevalence and nature of sexual misconduct in our community and on our campuses,” Professor Scott said.

Support is available

Sexual misconduct and sexual harassment help and support, both on and off campus, is available to anybody in our community who might need it.

Any student or staff member who needs additional support because of these issues or media coverage is encouraged to call the 1800 SYDHLP line to connect with internal and external sources of assistance.

Our progress so far

Following the release of the Broderick review into the culture of residential colleges on our campuses and the previous 2017 Change the Course survey and report, the University and residential college leadership made a unanimous decision to implement all the recommendations put forward. This work was completed at the end of 2019.

Actions taken by the University since 2017 include:

  • Adoption of student and staff sexual misconduct policies, which detail how we will support survivors, protect confidentiality and eliminate unacceptable behaviour that does not reflect the University’s values. We recently amended these policies and procedures, to allow more information sharing between the University and the colleges, USU and SUSF (in the past confidentiality clauses limited our ability to do this).
  • Establishment of our Safer Communities Office, a central team of specialist staff who provide trauma-informed support to survivors of sexual assault/harassment including domestic family violence. This Office also coordinates the University’s prevention initiatives around sexual misconduct.
  • Creation of a Preventative Education Specialist role in our Safer Communities Office, to improve our delivery of preventative education and increase awareness of issues such as consent and sexual misconduct on campus, and to lead consultation with students around co-design of programs and initiatives.
  • Mandatory online Consent Matters module for all newly enrolled students. From 2018-2021, 111,884 students have enrolled into this module with 92 percent of students having completed the module. On average 78 percent of students found the module effective in improving their understanding of consent.
  • Mandatory face-to-face Consent Matters workshops to student leaders in Colleges and University-owned accommodation. In 2021, this training was delivered to more than 1300 students.
  • Mandatory training for all USU, Sydney University Postgraduate Representative Association (SUPRA), Student Representative Council (SRC), SUSF executives and leaders around consent and drivers of sexual violence including how to provide support to fellow students. Currently more than 1300 students have enrolled into this module.
  • Our orientation week was renamed Welcome Week and the USU’s renamed Welcome Fest, to emphasise inclusion and welcome for our commencing students.
  • Updated Alcohol Policy, which applies to our entire University community (staff, students and affiliates), along harm-minimisation principles.
  • New complaints handling system that allows us to be far more transparent about the process, how long it might take, key milestones and what to expect.
  • Improved reporting processes including the launch of confidential online reporting forms for all members of the University community including current and former staff and students, in addition to members of the public.
  • Development of our Guiding Principles for Responding to Claims of Historical Sexual Abuse.
  • A confidential helpline service (1800 SYD HLP / 1800 793 457) to improve visibility and accessibility of key support services.
  • Updated Staff and Affiliates Code of Conduct to include a statement that sexual or romantic relationships between students and staff are never appropriate.
  • Establishment of a partnership with Royal Prince Alfred Hospital Sexual Assault Counselling Service to provide priority sexual assault counselling to students. In 2021, 441 counselling sessions were offered to University of Sydney students as a result of this partnership.
  • 'Responding with Compassion’ first responder training for our student leaders including student accommodation Residential Advisors and our student-facing staff. Since 2018, more than 1200 students and 261 staff have completed this training.
  • MATE Bystander awareness training for student leaders to equip them with skills and knowledge on how to safely intervene in a critical situation to help prevent gender-based violence. Since 2018, more than 800 students have completed this training.

University of Sydney survey results (provided by Social Research Centre)

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