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July 22, 2019 | by  | in News | [ssba]

Research: Third of Tertiary Students Sexually Assaulted At University


CW: Sexual Violence


The chances of a student experiencing  sexual assault at university are more than one to three. 


Kayla Stewart, a PhD student at the University of Otago, is currently conducting research into the prevalence of sexual violence in New Zealand universities.


Stewart’s research suggests that one in three students surveyed have experienced sexual assault at university.


In the study, 41% of women, 22% of men, and 31% of gender minority individuals at universities had been sexually violated.


In the wake of the #MeToo and Times Up movements, the Harvey Weinstein allegations, the unaddressed sexual assaults at Knox College in Dunedin, and the relaunch of the Thursdays in Black campaign at Vic—the conversation on sexual violence continues to develop and expand.  


“There needs to be an acknowledgment that this is an issue, because for too long, it’s been hidden, or universities have failed to acknowledge it,” Stewart said when the data was released.  


She described it as a particular “university problem”. 


Stewart collated numerous one-on-one interviews using the Sexual Experiences Survey (SES) tool, which measures the frequency of unwanted sex or sexual behavior.  


She found that first-year students are more at risk of sexual assault. The mixture of newfound independence, misunderstandings of consent, and drinking culture more specifically, forms a vulnerability between students. 


“Perpetrators are using incapacitation, likely through alcohol, to their advantage to sexually assault people,” Stewart stated.


This is consistent with coverage seen around unaddressed sexual violence at Knox College. In an exposé published by Critic Te Arohi in March, a handful of students came forward with their experiences of sexual assault at the University of Otago hall.


Many blamed the culture and traditions at the hall for the proliferation of sexual violence and lack of survivor support. Several residents explained that the hall had a culture of casual misogyny. 


An emphasis on drinking in the hall was also highlighted as part of the issue, with events like ‘Date Night’ being described as “always fucking dodgy as fuck”.


Although sexual assaults were reported, management often dismissed or ignored the allegations.


With the extremely high prevalence of sexual violence in tertiary education, how are universities dealing with the problem? 


In the USA, one in five female students are sexually assaulted. Taking Stewart’s recent research into account, it’s clear New Zealand’s universities could do much better to reduce the risk. 


Lily Kay Ross is a PhD student at Otago undertaking sexual violence research alongside Stewart.


She commented, “I think we’re lagging behind what’s going on in the USA at the moment. There are a number of universities figuring out policies and procedures—there is a lot of emphasis on victim support.”


Victoria University has recently closed consultation on their draft Sexual Harassment Prevention policy. 


According to VUW’s website, the policy “defines and prohibits sexual harassment, sets out how the University will manage disclosures and complaints of sexual harassment, and encourages safe active bystander intervention.”


However, there have been criticisms of the draft. Students and academics expressed concern to Salient during the consultation process that the term “sexual harassment” was inappropriate for a policy designed to reflect a wide variety of harmful behaviour. 


Jahla Lawrence, a sexual violence academic, Co-President of Victoria University Feminist Organisation and President of Thursdays in Black VUW, told Salient that the term “sexual harassment” does not reflect academic, legal, or activist language in the sexual violence area. 


Amongst other criticisms was an inadequate definitions section, and a failure to address vulnerable groups, such as queer individuals (particularly trans people), women of colour, female international students, and disabled women.


Stewart’s reminder at the end of it all? 


“Someone who is drunk, or otherwise out of it, cannot consent to sexual activity.” 




*VUWSA Advocate* | Erica Schouten | 04 463 6984 |


*Mauri Ora Student Health* | 04 463 5308 (Kelburn) | 04 463 7474 (Pipitea)


*Mauri Ora Student Counselling | 04 463 5310


*Safe to Talk* Sexual Harm 24/7 Helpline | Call 0800 044 334 or text 4334 |


*Wellington Sexual Abuse HELP* 24/7 Crisis Support Line | 04 801 6655 (Push 0 at menu) |


*Wellington Rape Crisis* | 04 801 8973 |


*Support Line*: Call or txt 022 419 3416 |


Call *111* in an emergency.


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