The NUS National Women's Officer states that -
the recommendations from this survey were not just a product of NUS policy but were also a reflection of broader consensus building on this issue. In this way, the recommendations have become a Safe Universities Blueprint combining Australian best-practice, international initiatives and suggestions put forward by the women’s, tertiary and youth sectors. This Blueprint is targeted at both universities (including their residential colleges) and students.Unsurprisingly, Universities Australia has responded with a statement that it -
is pleased to endorse the recommendations contained in the National Union of Students (NUS) Talk About It survey report. Universities Australia takes student safety very seriously and urges all Australian education providers to consider the NUS report as a way of complementing and extending our efforts to improve the student experience. The recommendations are designed to ensure women can study in a safe university environment by improving university policies on information and services, reporting mechanisms, awareness, infrastructure and training. As such, they are consistent with, and complementary to Universities Australia's recently released Good Practice Guidelines for Enhancing Student Safety which guide, support and recognise good practice, both on and off Australian university campuses. These Guidelines include a Ten Point Action Plan for Student Safety, and an update of members’ progress against the Plan which demonstrates an active commitment to implementation across the sector.The White Ribbon Alliance concurs, commenting that -
All women deserve the right to feel safe and secure on university campuses and colleges; to learn freely without the threat of violence. Furthermore, all women everywhere deserve to live a life free from violence.An emphasis on violence against anyone - irrespective of gender, age, sexual affinity, economic status or ethnicity - would be more appropriate. The authors might benefit from brushing up on their Rawls. They might allay some anxieties by publishing details of the survey methodology (population analysis, filtering, questions).
The report claims that -
Perceptions of SafetyA closer examination of the figures poses some concerns.• During the day, 92% of respondents felt safe compared with just 24% at night.Sexual Harassment• 86% of respondents have experienced someone making sexual comments or noises.Unwanted Obsessive Behaviour or Stalking
• 25% have had unwanted physical contact of a sexual nature.
• 35% have had unwanted contact in the way of groping, touching etc.
• 13% had experienced someone exposing their sexual organs to them without their permission.
• 25% of these respondents experienced this behavior several times.
• 73% of those who responded to this question did not know their attacker prior to the event.• 17% of the survey’s respondents said that they had experienced stalker-like or obsessive behavior.Experiences of Physical Mistreatment
• 57% said that the person responsible was an acquaintance or friend.
• 15% said that the person responsible was a partner or ex-partner.
• 6% said that the person responsible was an academic or non-teaching staff member at their university.
• 27% said that they were unknown prior to the offence.• 9% of the survey's respondents said that they had been hit or physically mistreated.Experiences of Sexual Assault
• 67% of respondents had experienced it in the form of being pushed, slapped, and shoved or having had their hair pulled. [67% of all 1549 respondents or 67% of the 9%?]
• 39% had experienced having something thrown at them. [a brick, a bottle, a teabag, a scrunched sheet of A4?]
• 26% had been kicked, bitten, hit with a fist or something that could hurt them.
• 12% had been choked, dragged, strangled or burnt.
• 34% said the perpetrator was unknown to them prior to the incident
• 29% said that they were an acquaintance or friend.
• 31% said that they were a partner or ex-partner.• 67% of respondents said that they had an unwanted sexual experience.Reporting and Awareness
• 31% had sex when they were, or felt unable to consent.
• 36% had other unwanted sexual experiences.
• 17% had experienced rape.
• 12% had experienced attempted rape.
• 11% had experienced assault by penetration. [assault by penetration isn't rape?]
• 56% of respondents said that their attacker was an acquaintance or friend.
• 22% said that they knew their attacker intimately
• 27% said they did not know their attacker prior to the incident. [56% + 22% + 27%?]• Only 3% of respondents who had experienced assault or harassment had reported it to their university and only 2% reported it to the police.Impact
• A majority of students (68% of respondents) stated that they did not report the incident because they didn’t think it was serious enough to report. [does that mean the incident was not serious or that the non-reporters had a 'false consciousness'?]
• Of those who did report the incident to their university, more were unhappy with how it was dealt than were happy.
• More women than not were aware of the services available to them from their university with 26% aware of these services compared with 17% not. [26% + 17% = 100%?]• Of the respondents who had experienced assault, harassment and stalking, 70% said that it had affected their confidence, 67% said that it affected their mental health and 49% said that it had affected their personal relationships.
The report indicates that
The survey was conducted exclusively online through the NUS website domain and using an online survey tool. The survey was promoted to students by student representative organisations and university administrations. The survey was accessible online between the 14th of September 2010 and the 20th March 2011. A total of 1549 survey responses were collected. Due to the sensitive nature of some of the survey's questions, responses to each question were optional and partial responses were accepted.Potentially, therefore, the results are problematical because the survey population is unrepresentative, there is bias in the survey questions and in what is accepted in answers.
The average student filling out the survey was a female, later-year, domestic student aged 24.7 years. They lived in a private residence and did not identify as having a disability. 1549 students responded to the survey between September and December 2010 and January to March 2011.
There is no way of telling from the report whether the violence took place across the respondent's lifetime or instead just while the person was a student. Did respondents fail to report because of perceived indifference/incapacity on the part of the authorities or instead because students - in some cases correctly - accept a certain amount of physicality in day to day life? Was the experience of "being pushed, slapped, and shoved or having had their hair pulled" at university or instead included what happened in the sandpit at preschool or in the playground with another girl at the age of 11?
I suspect that if I cared to set up an online survey aimed at university students (or merely at people who claimed to be university students) I could report that -
• university students fear a zombie outbreakThe recommendations do not move beyond gestures and reinforce a culture of victimisation or gendered incapacity.
• university students desire stern measures to prevent a zombie outbreak
• consistent with some of the sillier US studies, university students believe that a) Princess Diana was whacked by the Trilateral Commission or Mossad and b) Elvis lives!
Some are purely rhetorical. University VCs "could consider becoming White Ribbon Ambassadors in order to make it explicitly clear to the university community that this kind of behavior is not acceptable, and that the university is serious about tackling the problem" ... the sort of easy gesture that is aking to having the Vice-Chancellor sleep in a cardboard box once a year to show his solidarity with the poor. (To adapt Anatole France, in a liberal democratic state both the rich and poor alike are free to sleep under bridges but Vice-Chancellors only need to do it once a year, with a PR person to promote that event.) "Individual campuses could consider starting campus based White Ribbon Groups ... instrumental in challenging the attitudes of men towards women in regard to violence". Uh huh. And universities should decorate the campus with CCTV, the modern-day silver bullet for all that ails you.