National Student Safety Survey

Universities Australia

National Student Safety Survey written in aqua on a purple background

Understanding sexual misconduct in Australian universities

In 2016, the Australian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) carried out the first ever National Student Safety Survey (NSSS) to understand the nature, prevalence and reporting of sexual assault and sexual harassment at Australian universities.

The second NSSS was conducted in 2021 by the Social Research Centre in partnership with leading violence prevention expert Associate Professor Anastasia Powell of RMIT. 

The results for both the 2016 survey and the latest 2021 survey are available below.

Content warning: The reports contain discussion and descriptions of sexual harassment and sexual assault. They also contain mentions of self harm, drug use and suicidal ideation. If you would like to speak to somebody, a range of confidential support and resources is available to you.

2021

Australian universities commissioned and funded the National Student Safety Survey, which ran in 2021.

The survey was conducted by the Social Research Centre (SRC) in partnership with leading violence prevention expert Associate Professor Anastasia Powell of RMIT University. Before it was deployed nationally, a pilot for the survey was conducted at two universities – the Australian National University and Charles Sturt University – during March and April 2021.

The survey built on and extended the foundational survey conducted in 2016 and collected data on the scale and nature of university student experiences of sexual assault and sexual harassment to provide accurate and up-to-date information to universities about what is happening in their student communities.

To align with international best practice, the SRC developed behavioural questions regarding sexual assault. As this is different to the approach taken by the Australian Human Rights Commission in 2016, comparability between the prevalence rate of the 2016 survey and the 2021 survey is limited.

The national survey randomly sampled 378,992 students from universities across the country and ran from Monday 6 September to Sunday 3 October 2021.

A total of 43,819 students participated in the survey, with a national response rate of 11.6%. 1,835 students shared their experiences via the Your Story portal, forming the qualitative component of the survey.

National Student Safety Survey National results page 1

 

National Student Safety Survey National results page 2

To view the full PDF version of the 2021 National Student Safety Report, please visit the NSSS website.

Visit the NSSS 

 

The graphics provided for use are not accessible by screen readers so here is a text summary of the results.

42,819 students participated in the survey. Of those respondents to the survey, the following national statistics have been provided.

Prevalence in a university context

  • 1 in 6 (16.1%) experienced sexual harassment since starting university
  • 1 in 12 (8.1%) experienced sexual harassment in the past 12 months
  • 1 in 20 (4.5%) experienced sexual assault since starting university
  • 1 in 90 (1.1%) experienced sexual assault in the past 12 months

Experiences of sexual harassment in the past 12 months:

  • Female 10.5%
  • Male 3.9%
  • Transgender 14.7%
  • Non-binary 22.4%

Experiences of sexual assault in the past 12 months:

  • Female 1.4%
  • Male 0.6%
  • Transgender estimate is unreliable
  • Non-binary 2.2%

Context of most impactful incident

Sexual harassment

  • General campus area 43.3%
  • University library 17.5%
  • Lecture theatre/labs 15.6%

1 in 2 (50.7%) knew some or all of the perpetrators involved

Sexual assault  

  • College / student accommodation 25.8%
  • Clubs and societies 25.3%
  • Private home or residence 18.4%

2 in 3 (65.7%) knew some or all of the perpetrators involved

Formal complaints made to university

  • 1 in 30 (3.0%) of students who were sexually harassed made a formal complaint
  • 1 in 20 (5.6%) of students who were sexually assaulted made a formal complaint

Seeking support from the university

  • 1 in 6 (16.8%) of students who were sexually harassed sought support or assistance
  • 1 in 4 (25.5%) of students who were sexually assaulted sought support or assistance

Knowledge of university support and reporting channels

  • 1 in 2 (51%) know nothing or very little about the formal reporting process for harassment
  • 1 in 2 (46.7%) know nothing or very little about where to seek support or assistance for harassment
  • 1 in 2 (53.6) know nothing or very little about the formal reporting process for assault
  • 1 in 2 (46.7%) know nothing or very little about where to seek support or assistance for assault

The 2021 National Student Safety Survey Report & the 2021 National Student Safety Survey Qualitative Report can both be found on the official NSSS website.

Visit the NSSS

National Student Safety Survey UNSW results page 1
National Student Safety Survey UNSW results page 2

Download PDF version  

 

The graphics provided for use are not accessible by screen readers so here is a text summary of the results.

1,486 UNSW students participated in the survey. Of those respondents to the survey, the following UNSW specific statistics have been provided.

Prevalence in a university context

  • 13.5% experienced sexual harassment since starting university
  • 5.8% experienced sexual harassment in the past 12 months
  • 3.2% experienced sexual assault since starting university
  • 0.6% experienced sexual assault in the past 12 months

Experiences of sexual harassment in the past 12 months:

  • Female 9.2%
  • Male 2.6%
  • Differently described gender 12.1%

Experiences of sexual assault in the past 12 months:

  • Female 1.4%
  • Male estimate is unreliable
  • Differently described gender estimate is unreliable

Context of most impactful incident

Sexual harassment

  • General campus area 46%
  • Clubs and societies, events and spaces 17.1%
  • Lecture theatre/labs 13.7%

57.3% knew some or all of the perpetrators involved

Formal complaints made to university

  • 2.1% of students who were sexually harassed made a formal complaint

Seeking support from the university

  • 16.2% of students who were sexually harassed sought support or assistance

Knowledge of university support and reporting channels

  • 52% know nothing or very little about the formal reporting process for harassment
  • 49.3% know nothing or very little about where to seek support or assistance for harassment
  • 54% know nothing or very little about the formal reporting process for assault
  • 45.9% know nothing or very little about where to seek support or assistance for assault

2016

AHRC Change the course report 2017 showing the back of a graduating students head and mortar board hat

Building on research undertaken by the National Union of Students (NUS) in 2011, the UNSW AHRCentre worked with the Australian Human Rights Commission and Universities Australia to design the survey, which was rolled out across all 39 Australian universities between September and December 2016.

The survey went to a sample of students at each university, 319,959 nationally, with responses from 30,930 students.

In July 2017, based off the survey results, the AHRC published its report Change the Course: National Report on Sexual Assault and Sexual Harassment at Australian Universities 2017.

Key findings from the report showed the level of sexual harassment and sexual assault in universities is high and reflects the broader Australian community, highlighting that while this is not just a problem for universities, universities are uniquely placed to contribute to solutions.

Download report 

The report concluded that universities need to do more to prevent such abuse, to build a culture of respect and to respond appropriately by supporting victims and sanctioning perpetrators.

It focused on 9 recommendations for action

  1. Leadership
  2. Behavioural change
  3. Providing information
  4. Policies and procedures
  5. Responding to incidents
  6. Continuous improvement
  7. Assessment
  8. Future actions
  9. Residential colleges
     

Some of the UNSW specific findings are as follows:

  • Of the 727 UNSW students who responded, 1.3% reported being sexually assaulted in a university setting in 2015 and/or 2016, a figure comprising 1.5% of female respondents and 0.7% of male respondents.
  • 29% of respondents reported being sexually harassed at university in 2016. 32% of female respondents and 29% of male respondents reported being sexually harassed at university.
  • An even higher proportion of our students reported being sexually assaulted and sexually harassed in their lives beyond the University. Overall, 5.5% of UNSW respondents reported being victims of sexual assault in 2015 and/or 2016. 52% reported experiencing sexual harassment.
  • 74% of those who were sexually harassed at university said the perpetrator was a student of the university or a student in their place of residence; 9% said the perpetrator was a tutor, lecturer or non-academic university staff member of the university.
  • 83% of those who were sexually harassed at university said the perpetrators were males or that males and females were both involved.
  • 25% of students reported being sexually harassed on public transport to or from university.
  • Only 4% of students who were sexually harassed at university indicated that they sought support and assistance from the university.
  • A high proportion of respondents, over 70%, indicated that they did not report sexual harassment because they did not think it was serious enough.
  • More than half of the respondents indicated that they had little or no knowledge of UNSW policies on sexual harassment and assault, of where to seek support/assistance and of where to go within the university to make a complaint.

Full report

Since the 2016 survey, UNSW has pursued a number of initiatives:

For more information

visit the Universities Australia National Student Safety website 

Go to website

UNSW initiatives

Behaviour that amounts to sexual assault or sexual harassment is not accepted at UNSW. If you are a student or staff who has been affected by sexual misconduct, here is information about the support and reporting options available inside and outside of UNSW. 

The Sexual Misconduct Portal allows anyone to report an incident of sexual assault or harassment, whether you have been directly affected, are a witness to an incident or a support person. Reports can be made anonymously and will remain confidential unless specifically stated by the person reporting.

In 2021 UNSW was the first university in Australia to publicly publish annual report on the prevention of and response to sexual misconduct. The latest report shares information including the number of reports of sexual misconduct made, the prevention and response strategies in place to support our community, and the levels of participation in relevant training.