Sexual assault and harassment on university campuses: Changing the course

Gillian Triggs

This seminar was recorded at the Australian National University on 5 September 2017. Please do not reproduce without permission.

In February 2016 all 39 Australian university Vice-Chancellors launched a new initiative ‘Respect, Now, Always’ to address sexual assault and sexual harassment and build on work by individual universities in this area. As part of this initiative, the university sector through Universities Australia, asked the Australian Human Rights Commission to conduct a national prevalence survey of university students.

In this seminar, Gillian Triggs, who was until recently the President of the Commission, talks about the resulting ‘Change the Course’ report which was published on 1 August 2017.

The report concluded that:

• sexual assault and sexual harassment are far too prevalent in university settings as they are in the broader community
• there is significant underreporting of sexual assault and sexual harassment to the university
• universities need to do more to prevent such abuse from occurring in the first place, to build a culture of respect and to respond appropriately by supporting victims of abuse and sanctioning perpetrators.  

Australian universities provide education, pastoral care, recreational opportunities and employment to a cohort of students at increased risk of experiencing sexual assault and sexual harassment. This means that universities are in a unique position to prevent and respond to sexual assault and sexual harassment. (Change the Course Report p.13)

About the speaker

Emeritus Professor Gillian Triggs recently took up the position of Vice Chancellor’s Fellow at the University of Melbourne, following the completion of her five year term as the President of the Australian Human Rights Commission. Prior to that, she was Dean of the Faculty of Law and Challis Professor of International Law at the University of Sydney from 2007-12 and Director of the British Institute of International and Comparative Law from 2005-7. She is a former Barrister and a Governor of the College of Law.

Professor Triggs has combined an academic career with international commercial legal practice and has advised the Australian and other governments and international organisations on international legal and trade disputes. Her focus at the Commission was on the implementation in Australian law of the human rights treaties to which Australia is a party, and to work with nations in the Asia Pacific region on practical approaches to human rights. Professor Triggs’ is the author of many books and papers on international law, including International Law, Contemporary Principles and Practices (2nd Ed, 2011).

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