25 Aug 2017

'No point' in reporting sexual violence, students say

11:29 am on 25 August 2017

A report on sexual violence among students reveals many victims are not reporting their experiences to their tertiary institution.

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Photo: 123rf

The report, 'In Our Own Words', was based on an opt-in, online survey of 1400 students nationwide.

It will be used by ACC for a three-year $1.4 million action plan.

Report author Izzy O'Neill, from the New Zealand Union of Students Associations, said 9 percent of those who answered the question on sexual assault reported being raped, and 19 percent said they'd had sex without their consent. This suggested more education was needed about consent.

Although the survey was not representative of the tertiary sector as a whole, Ms O'Neill said to be able to get a record of people's responses was "a triumph" for people who had been told it was not an issue.

More than 1400 responses were gathered over a month. Ms O'Neill was only expecting "about 300 responses total" but that number was surpassed in the first day.

More than half - 761 - of respondents did not report their experiences of sexual violence to their tertiary institution, which Ms O'Neill said was a striking result.

In 508 cases, people did not report it because they did not think there was any point.

She recognised respondents were sometimes confused about or struggled to recognise whether they had been sexually assaulted.

Ms O'Neill, who heads the anti-sexual violence campaign Thursdays in Black, said the survey looked not only at overarching sexual violence but explored effects on different race, gender and sexual orientation minorities.

Ahi Wihongi, from Gender Minorities Aotearoa, said while most perpetrators were fellow students, university staff needed to be more sensitive about the way they talked about gender and sexual minorities.

The organisation was approached for consultation in the early stages of the process and helped develop questions and recommendations for the report.

Ms Wihongi said it was refreshing to have a study that included gender diverse communities and their experiences.

NZUSA executive director Alistair Shaw outlined a three-year action plan including reviews of educators' policies on sexual harassment and violence prevention, improving reporting and support systems, and providing training programmes for all staff and students.

Mr Shaw acknowledged change would not happen quickly and the first step would be to address the underlying features of rape culture.

"Education is key."

ACC announced this month they would be spending $1.4 million on a new programme aimed at curbing sexual violence on university and polytechnic campuses.

ACC Violence Injury Prevention manager Mike McCarthy said the narratives and voices of the students in the report would help inform the development of their new programe.

He hoped more staff and students would be willing to come forward in the event of sexual violence and harassment as the programme developed.

"Part of the desire around this is to create an environment that prevents sexual violence and harassment from occuring."

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