Unanimous Senate report calls for independent taskforce to hold universities to account on sexual violence


The Senate inquiry into sexual consent laws has today tabled a unanimous report that recommends an independent taskforce to hold universities to account on sexual violence, as well as an urgent review into the Tertiary Education Quality and Standards Agency’s response to sexual violence on university campuses.

Among the other recommendations are the inclusion of an affirmative consent standard in any proposal to harmonise Australia’s sexual consent laws, adequate funding and training for Respectful Relationships Education and more sensitive and trauma-informed approaches to sexual violence in the criminal justice system.

Lines attributable to Greens leader in the Senate and spokesperson on Women, Larissa Waters

“Today’s consensus recommendation for an independent taskforce to hold universities to account on sexual violence is thanks to the tireless efforts of advocates like End Rape on Campus, Fair Agenda and The STOP Campaign, and the many witnesses who shared their experiences with the committee.

“It is abundantly clear that Universities Australia and TEQSA have not been up to the task of responding to sexual assault on university campuses or residential halls. 

“Students need to know their safety is being taken seriously. Parents need to know their kids are safe in residential halls. Universities need to be forced to take action.

“We know that an alarming number of people still disbelieve or victim-blame survivors of assault. Sexual consent education in schools can help dismantle this persistent rape culture and ensure everyone understands that only informed and enthusiastic consent means yes. 

“Everyone has the right to age-appropriate, evidence-based sexual and consent education. And we are so pleased to see the recommendation for ongoing funding to provide Respectful Relationships Education and investment in the Initial Teacher Education Curriculum.

“Nationally, almost nine in 10 incidents of sexual assault are not reported to the police. We need to start addressing the factors that discourage people from reporting, including attitudes towards survivors, unclear laws, and re-traumatising experiences within the justice system.  

“Including an affirmative consent standard in any proposal to harmonise Australia’s sexual consent laws puts the onus on alleged perpetrators, and is a step towards changing the way that rape allegations are treated by police and lawyers. 

“So far we’ve seen commitments from some state governments to strengthen the legal definitions of consent, and to make stealthing an offence. These are good steps forward, but we need to harmonise the laws to ensure cultural change nationwide.

“This inquiry and the recommendations in the report tabled today would not exist without the work of courageous advocates like Saxon Mullins, Nina Funnell, Grace Tame, Chanel Contos, Sharna Bremner, Camille Schloeffel and many more, who have consistently pushed for laws and consent education to be informed by the lived experience of sexual assault victim-survivors.”

Quotes attributable to Greens Deputy Leader and Education spokesperson Senator Mehreen Faruqi:

“Universities have ignored sexual violence on campus for too long and must be compelled to take meaningful action to not only address violence and support victim-survivors, but to also actively prevent sexual violence on campus. 

“Universities must actively build and promote a culture that does not tolerate sexual assault, violence or harassment of any form.

“The independent taskforce must be established with urgency, and have powers to monitor and evaluate universities, and also impose consequences for universities who are failing to protect students.

“An urgent review into TEQSA’s response to sexual violence on campus is long overdue.

“Thank you to the incredible activists whose unwavering commitment has made these recommendations possible. Now, we need urgent action from the Government. 

“Every student has the right to study in a safe, respectful environment, without fear of being sexually assaulted or harassed. We need to see these recommendations enacted as quickly as possible.”