An open letter to the Albanese Government on sexual violence at universities

An open letter to the Albanese Government, 

We write as a united group of current and former students, survivors, advocates, and service providers - calling for the federal government to urgently intervene to address university failures to prevent and respond adequately to sexual violence in their communities.

Survivors, student leaders and advocacy groups have been speaking out about sexual violence in university context for decades. 

In the six years since the release of the landmark Change the Course report, university leaders have been claiming to have ‘zero tolerance’ for sexual assault. Yet the recent National Student Safety Survey shows continuing shocking rates of sexual assault and harassment in university spaces, and ongoing university failures to provide affected students with adequate avenues for support. 

If nothing changes, based on NSSS figures, at least 14,300 students will be sexually assaulted in university contexts each coming year. For many, the university’s response will compound their trauma, and adversely impact their academic outcomes, their ability to complete their degree, and their capacity to pursue their chosen career. 

Universities need to implement evidence-based prevention education programming and improve their responses to incidents of sexual harm. They need to be more transparent about the use of sexual violence in their communities, and how they are responding and holding perpetrators accountable. 

Universities have been repeatedly provided expert advice [1] on good practice and have chosen not to implement it. 

In the six years since the release of the Change the Course report, the higher education regulator, TEQSA, has failed to hold a single university accountable for not adequately addressing or responding to reports of sexual assault and/or harassment. [2]

 This has gone on long enough. The Albanese Government must intervene to protect student safety. 

We are calling on the government to establish an independent oversight and accountability mechanism with a mandate to address sexual violence at universities.

 This must: 

  • be independent of universities and residences;
  • be led by experts in sexual violence who can assesses the quality of university approaches;
  • have authority to compel institutional transparency around incidents and responses; and
  • be able to implement meaningful sanctions when basic standards are not met.

 To achieve the Government’s goals to address gender-based violence, it must intervene in the university context. 

We need urgent action, and we need it now. 


Abby Kennedy, 2017 National Union of Students Women’s Officer

Dr Adrianna Haro, graduate of the University of Newcastle Alev Saracoglu, Women’s Officer, University of Sydney Students' Representative Council

ANU Students' Association (ANUSA)

Australian Law Students’ Association

Australian Women's Health Network

Caleb Watts, Welfare Officer, UNSW Student Representative Council

Darcie Cliff, Vice President of Indigenous Affairs, What Were You Wearing Australia

Eli Spencer, Queer Officer, QUT Guild

End Rape on Campus Australia

Fair Agenda

Full Stop Australia

Georgette Mouawad, 2021 National Union of Students Women’s Officer

Georgia Thomas, President, University of Adelaide Student Representative Council

Heidi La Paglia Reid, 2016 National Union of Students Women’s Officer

Humaira Nasrin, 2020 National Union of Students Women’s Officer

Julia Saphia Grant, former President of University of Tasmania Women’s Collective and Student Union Disability Officer

Kush Ketan Modha, Board Member, University of South Australia Student Association

KWILS – Katherine Women’s Legal Service

Linnea Burdon-Smith, 2016 ANU Students Association Women’s Officer

Lucy Fawcett, Magill Undergraduate Representative, University of South Australia Student Association

Manisha Kulasinghe, Women’s Officer, James Cook University Student Association

MSI Australia

National Association of Services against Sexual Violence

National Union of Students

National Women’s Safety Alliance

Nguyen Khanh Tran, Disabilities Officer, University of Sydney Students' Representative Council

No Student Left Behind - Western Sydney University

Oliver Shephard-Bayly, Board Member, University of South Australia Student Association

Rape and Sexual Assault Research and Advocacy

Rhiannon Halling, She's a Crowd & Women With Disabilities Australia

Sarah Williams, University of Newcastle Survivor Advocates Advisory Chair & Founder, What Were You Wearing Australia

SASVic (Sexual Assault Services Victoria)

Siahne Hills, Women’s Officer, QUT Guild

Tegan Stettaford, Postgraduate Student Representative, University of Newcastle Students’ Association

The STOP Campaign

Top End Women's Legal Service Inc

University of Melbourne Student Union Women's Department

University of Newcastle Students Association

University of Sydney SRC Women’s Collective

University of Sydney Students' Representative Council (SRC)

UQ Union

What Were You Wearing Australia

Women's Legal Services Australia

Women's Legal Service Tasmania

Women's Legal Service WA

Zahra Bayani, Students Representative City East Campus, University of South Australia Student Association

[1] See: Andrea Durbach and Kirsten Keith, On Safe Ground: A Good Practice Guide for Australian Universities (Australian Human Rights Centre, UNSW, August 2017), Universities Australia, Guidelines for University Responses to Sexual Assault and Sexual Harassment (20 July 2018), Universities Australia, Sexual Harm Response Guidelines 2023,, and Tertiary Education Quality and Standards Agency, Good Practice Note: Preventing and responding to sexual assault and sexual harassment in the Australian higher education sector (9 July 2020)

[2] TEQSA has revealed in Senate Estimates that it has undertaken more than 60 individual assessments of universities’ sexual assault and harassment policies and procedures, including 29 finalised complaints, 12 occasions where TEQSA engaged with seven universities in relation to media reports, and five occasions where universities had notified TEQSA of a matter of concern related to sexual assault or sexual harassment. See: Senate Standing Committees on Education and Employment, Parliament of Australia, Budget Estimates 2022–2023, Question on Notice SQ22-000390, Question on Notice SQ22-000173, and Question on Notice SQ22-00039.


You can sign the petition to hold universities accountable for failures on sexual violence here.

1 comment

Liz Hadjia Liz Hadjia 2023-07-11 13:36:33 +1000