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Every Australian University Will Release Data About Sexual Assault On Campus

"Students need to know how safe their campus is."

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The announcement came after the survey, commissioned by Universities Australia (UA) and prompted by the advocacy work of student sexual assault survivors and campus groups, came under fire this week.

Advocates claimed the UA had "exploited rape survivors" by not gaining ethics approval for submissions, and that a lack of recommendations would lead to little action on sexual assault.

National Union of Students women's officer Abby Stapleton told BuzzFeed News the release of individual campus data was essential.

"Students need to know how safe their campus is. Students deserve to know how their university tackles sexual assault," she said.

"I really do believe that if we hadn't of been putting the pressure on universities, they would not have released the surveys."

In a statement on Wednesday Universities Australia CEO Belinda Robinson said it should "come as no surprise" that individual data would be released.

“University leaders wanted the survey to guide further improvements in how to prevent and respond to sexual assault and harassment, and support survivors," she said.

But while advocates have hailed the news of individual campus data as a win, they remain skeptical about other areas of the report – including the ethics process, the recommendations, and the general involvement of Universities Australia.

Earlier this week Stapleton and other advocates expressed concern that the report would contain no recommendations for universities to adopt.

Sex Discrimination Commissioner Kate Jenkins subsequently said the AHRC had erred by referring to the recommendations as "areas for action", and that there would be recommendations.

Stapleton contends it was not an error of phrasing, but a deliberate backtrack.

"If they were actually going to produce meaningful recommendations they would have called them that from the beginning," Stapleton said.

"'Areas of action and reform' is a way to water down the implementation. They won't be implemented straight away. We'll see focus groups and consultation and a whole lot of red tape."

Jenkins told BuzzFeed News she wanted to reassure students that the HRC is committed to seeing change in universities.

"We are currently in the process of writing the report and developing these recommendations. But I can confirm that accountability will be at the forefront of our minds as we refine the report," she said.

"The large number of survey responses and submissions we have received means that we will be able to make very strong findings and clear recommendations on areas for action and reform."

Jenkins also drew a distinction between ethics approval for the survey (which occurred) and ethics approval for the submissions of personal experiences of sexual assault (which did not).

"The survey received approval from the Human Research Ethics Committee at the University of NSW," she said.

"Ethics approval is required in relation to research. The information provided in submissions is not research in the sense of a survey, but rather provides an opportunity for all members of the public to share their views."

Earlier this week journalist and advocate Nina Funnell said it was "disturbing" to discover the submission questionnaire did not receive ethics approval.

Lane Sainty is a reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in Sydney, Australia.

Contact Lane Sainty at lane.sainty@buzzfeed.com.

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