If someone has told you that they have been sexually harassed or assaulted, or you have witnessed or heard of someone being sexually harassed or assaulted, it can be hard to know what to do. Let us take you through what you need to know about sexual assault and harassment, and how to find support in Australia as an international student.
In 2016, United Nations goodwill ambassador and actress Emma Watson announced a report to be launched into sexual assault at universities.
Speaking to the UN General Assembly, Watson said,
“A university should be a place of refuge that takes action against all forms of violence.”
The launch of the report came at the same time as increased discussion of the issue of sexual assault and harassment in Australian universities.
In August 2016, Universities Australia launched the ‘Respect. Now. Always.’ project, which invited university students to anonymously share their experiences of sexual assault and sexual harassment. A second pilot survey was conducted from March to April 2021, and another national survey will occur in September 2021. The results will be delivered in 2022.
In 2017, the Australian Human Rights Commission’s National Report on Sexual Assault and Sexual Harassment at Australian Universities found that 22 per cent of international students had been sexually harassed, and 1.4 per cent had been sexually assaulted, in an Australian university setting.
The report also found that international students were more likely to feel too embarrassed or ashamed to report sexual assault or harassment than domestic students.
It is common for victims of sexual assault and harassment to feel fear, shame, or confusion. But sexual assault and harassment are never the fault of the victim. If you, or someone you know, has experienced sexual assault or harassment there are help and resources available to you.
What is sexual assault?
Sexual assault is a criminal offence. It is any type of coerced or forced sexual behaviour or contact that occurs without your consent and makes you feel uncomfortable, threatened, or scared. It can happen to anyone, regardless of race, age, gender, religion, or sexual orientation.
For more information, see Reach Out’s What is sexual assault? article.
What can I do if I’m a victim of sexual assault?
First, it is important to remove yourself from any immediate danger. If you’re in immediate danger, call emergency services on 000. If you’re on campus grounds, call campus security.
Find a person who you feel comfortable talking to, such as a friend, family member, or a counsellor. There are state and territory organisations that offer information and support for victims, and there may also be counsellors available at your university.
Specialist support is available from the National Sexual Assault, Domestic and Family Violence Counselling Service on 1800RESPECT (1800 737 732). For translating and interpreting service, national call 13 14 50 and ask them to contact 1800 RESPECT.
It is up to you whether or not you report the incident to the police or your institution, but it is encouraged.
You should also consider getting medical help from a hospital or healthcare centre as soon as possible after a sexual assault, where you will also likely be provided access to support services.
Who can I speak to in my state or territory for help after sexual assault?
If you are wondering where to find help or support after sexual assault, there are different services available to victims of sexual assault in each state and territory.
NSW: NSW Rape Crisis Counselling Service — 1800 424 017
VIC: Sexual Assault Crisis Line — 1800 806 292
SA: Yarrow Place Rape and Sexual Assault Service — (08) 8226 8787
WA: Sexual Assault Resource Centre — (08) 6458 1828
QLD: Sexual Assault Helpline — 1800 010 120
ACT: Canberra Rape Crisis Centre — 6247 2525
TAS: Sexual Assault Support Service — 1800 697 877
NT: Sexual Assault Referral Centre — (08) 8922 6472
You can find the complete guide at Reach Out’s Sexual Assault Services.
What is sexual harassment?
Sexual harassment is illegal in Australia. The Australian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) defines sexual harassment as ‘any unwanted or unwelcome sexual behaviour, which makes a person feel offended, humiliated or intimidated.’ It can be physical, verbal, or conducted online through social media, email, or text.
For a full list of sexual harassment examples and more information, see the AHRC’s guide to identifying sexual harassment.
What can I do if I’m a victim of sexual harassment?
First, let the person that is doing the harassment know that their behaviour is unwelcome and should stop.
Keep records of any harassment. For example, write down dates, locations, and keep any text messages or emails
If the situation doesn’t stop, make a formal complaint with your institution or workplace through your supervisor, boss, or human resources office.
If you are not satisfied with their response, and/or the behaviour is continuing, you can also make a complaint to the local police, your student or workers’ union, and/or the Australian Human Rights Commission.
How to help someone who is sexually harassed or assaulted
If someone has told you that they have been sexually harassed or assaulted, or you have witnessed or heard of someone being sexually harassed or assaulted, it can be hard to know what to do.
It is important to be supportive of the victim, not to blame them, and to encourage them to seek help from support services.
It is equally important to respect the victim and their choices. There are many reasons why someone might not want to report a crime or seek help. While you should let them know about the support services available to them, if they decide not to take action, you must respect their wishes.
For more information on how to support victims of sexual harassment or assault, click here.