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150 “deeply disturbing” submissions about sexual assault or harassment at Australian universities have already been received by the Australian Human Rights Commission (AHRC), one week after launching its landmark survey into sexism on campus.
For the first time, the AHRC are surveying samples of students from Australia’s 39 universities, and have also invited all students to anonymously share their experiences of sexual assault or harassment in an online submission.
President of the Australian Human Rights Commission Gillian Triggs told Hack that she’s already shocked by the submissions that are trickling in.
“The survey launched only 5 or 6 days ago, and we’re already getting unprecedented submissions from the public, from students.
“We’ve had about 150 submissions, and they are deeply disturbing.
Gillian Triggs said some of the respondents reported being dragged out of a car and raped; being sexually assaulted; experiencing inappropriate sexual movements; or having their clothes taken off them at a party.
“It’s almost as if the dam is bursting, people want to talk about this.”
Gillian Triggs told Hack she believes people feel more comfortable talking about assault and harassment in a confidential survey.
“I think when you have that kind of opportunity, you do get a very high number of people saying, ‘this is my opportunity to talk about something’.
“These recent submissions are often prefaced by the remark, ‘I didn’t report this, but’.”
Gillian Triggs says there’s huge extremes in the nature of students’ submissions so far, and it’s too early to see if there’s any trends emerging. But she hopes that the survey will be able to show if the amount and nature of sexual harassment on campus is different to the general population.
“We all know that every week in the media there’s another story [about sexual harassment] from a university college, or a university pretty much happening all over Australia.
“One of the things we’d like to know is whether the incidence of these sexual harassments from minor matters to very serious rapes, whether this is any different from the rest of the community. We don’t know the answer to that.”
“Hugely betrayed and very deflated”
Over the past few months, Hack has reported on several stories about sexual assault and harassment of university students.
And we often don’t have to go very far to find more and more stories.
20-year-old ANU student Alex Lewis is another one of them.
Earlier this year, she found out guys at her college had been taking photos of her clothed breasts and sharing them online.
“It was a formal dinner at the start of the year and one of the men created a group message consisting of the second and third year ‘boys club’ members,” Alex wrote in ANU’s student newspaper Woroni last month, “The night was filled with eating, drinking and dancing, all documented in an online forum with the sole purpose of judging the ‘best mooeys (breasts) on show’ for the night.”
“Like mindless sheep following suit, a handful of the men captured and uploaded images of my body. Seasoned with comments of sexist slurs, that included proposals of raping me – all the while I cheerfully sat opposite them.”
Alex told Hack that the experience made her look at her friends – who were part of the group message – in a totally different light.
“I felt hugely betrayed and very deflated, because I didn’t think I could do anything about it,” Alex says.
“I was so confused about the people that I was surrounded with. [I thought], actually maybe no they weren’t my friends, and hanging out with them was more a novelty for them, rather than a relationship.”
A few months later, when she published her story in the student newspaper, other students started sharing their own stories with Alex.
“I found that a magnitude of people came to me with their story,” Alex says, “Everyone has their own example, experience with this. That really has rocked me.
“I didn’t think that so many people had experienced things so much worse than I had.”