Review of sexual harassment and sexual assault at JCU’s Townsville on-campus residences

An external review of James Cook University’s residential colleges has found the vast majority of students feel safe living on campus, and many believe the University has taken steps to combat sexual assault and sexual harassment in recent years.

An external review of James Cook University’s residential colleges has found the vast majority of students feel safe living on campus, and many believe the University has taken steps to combat sexual assault and sexual harassment in recent years.

But students have also told the external reviewer of incidents of sexual assault and sexual harassment, either at their college/hall residence, grounds or elsewhere, with most not reporting the incident.

As part of commitments made following the Broderick Review in 2017, Dr Sharon McCallum reviewed the six residential colleges and halls located on JCU’s Douglas campus. The review (attached) has been publicly released today.

The Deputy Vice Chancellor of the Division of Services and Resources, Tricia Brand has welcomed the review. She said students have a right to feel respected and safe in JCU’s residential colleges and halls.

“This review tells us what our students think, and confirms the University has done a great deal to ensure students are safe, but it also shows there’s more we can do.”

The review’s findings and recommendations reflect the views of current and former residents of the colleges and halls, with data collected through an anonymous survey, group discussions and individual interviews.

Review findings include:

  • According to the review, the strongest theme to emerge was that participants enjoyed living on-college and felt safe. 97% of survey respondents felt safe all or most of the time on-college, and many described living on-college as similar to being part of a family that looked after one another.
  • Those involved in the review felt colleges and halls have become increasingly safe because of a “cultural change” and new approach taken by JCU and the Principals of college and halls.
  • More than 2300 people were invited to take in the survey, but only 28% (666 people) completed the survey, with the majority being current residents.
  • 82% (of those who answered the question) reported that they were very satisfied, fairly satisfied or satisfied with the seriousness afforded by their college or hall to the issues of sexual assault and sexual harassment.
  • The review found 28% of those who completed the survey had experienced an incident of sexual harassment while living in a college or hall between 2014 and mid-2018.
  • In group discussions, the sexual harassment was commonly described as “low-level”. The most commonly cited forms of sexual harassment were ‘unwelcome touching, hugging, cornering or kissing’, ‘inappropriate staring or leering that made you feel intimidated’, and ‘sexually suggestive comments or jokes that made you feel offended’.
  • Discussion group participants believed that the levels of sexual harassment were relatively low and had decreased in recent years.
  • In the period from 2014 – mid 2018, 8.4% of the 666 survey respondents indicated they had experienced an incident of sexual assault, with half of incidents taking place in the student’s college/hall residence or grounds. (The survey defined sexual assault as any unwanted or forced sexual activity without consent and can include oral sex, and indecent assault, for example: groping and inappropriate touching, with rape being the most serious form of sexual assault.)
  • Almost all of those who experienced sexual harassment and sexual assault did not disclose the incident, or seek help from professionals or people in positions of authority, with the main reason given (50% of respondents) that they didn’t think the incident was a “significant enough event”.

The review’s 19 recommendations include the continuation of mandatory consent and other training, and enhancing lighting and CCTV to improve security around colleges and halls.

Ms Brand said since 2017, JCU has introduced a wide range of measures to combat sexual assault and harassment, and the review’s findings reflect those measures.

“JCU is implementing strong and effective responses to sexual violence and harassment, and many residents say they have noticed a “cultural change” at their college or hall.

“We’ve taken steps to stop events that were linked to hazing and sexual harassment, and consent training has been introduced, amongst other measures. However, the review has been told that incidents of sexual assault and sexual harassment have occurred, and we must continue our efforts to eliminate this behaviour. This is reflected in our Statement of Commitment to this effect adopted earlier this year.”

“We will consider the review’s findings and recommendations and respond to the issues raised. Many of the recommendations are already being acted upon. JCU is developing comprehensive and mandatory training for colleges and halls on matters including consent, respectful behaviours and alcohol misuse. And we are improving security on the campus, including additional patrols and the development of a safe walking path.

“We are continuing to listen to the expertise of the sexual assault services in Townsville to ensure we are using evidence-based approaches and providing the appropriate responses. We want to ensure that students are supported and feel safe, so they can disclose an incident and know that the colleges, halls and broader University support them to seek the help they need.

“Some of the recommendations raise matters for the private colleges to consider, and JCU will also support the colleges as they respond to those recommendations,” Ms. Brand said.

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