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Sexual assault on Sydney campus raises university sex crime issues

Nkandu Chipale Mwenge

Tue Oct 29 2013


A RECENT attack on a young woman in Sydney shines a torch on the issue of sexual assault on campus. Nkandu Mwenge reports.


Photo: Kissthelava via Flickr

The arrest of international student Nadim Hassan for sexually assaulting a 16 year-old girl at Macquarie University has raised questions about the issue of sexual violence towards women on campus.

The girl was asleep in a campus residence and allegedly woke up to find a man assaulting her.

Speaking with the Triple J’s Hack, the victim and her friend said that security had failed to report the attack to the police. It was only the next day that the police were notified of the incident by the victim’s parents.

The incident follows a similar attack at the campus residence earlier this year, in which a 20-year-old awoke to find a man sexually assaulting her.

According to The National Union of Students’ Women’s Department, three per cent of students who have been victims of harassment report the incident to university authorities, while only two per cent seek help from the police.

We encourage victims to come forward and tell their story, whether that be to initiate an investigation or to provide information or intelligence.” – Belinda Nolan, Victorian Police

Brendan FitzGerald, Health Promotion Projects Coordinator at La Trobe University told Meld that the lack of support at some universities means fewer female students are reporting incidents of sexual violence.

He advised that international students should ensure the university they attend or wish to attend is “working towards preventing violence against women” because such institutions will have “lower rates of violence against women than others.”

Mr FitzGerald also pointed out that violence against women can be shaped by community attitudes. He noted that universities should strive to “support equality between men and women, accept gender diversity and support non-violent problem solving”.

The National Union of Students’ Women’s Department, in its “Talk About It” survey report, lists a number of services that universities should offer to help mitigate the risk of female students becoming victims of violence. Among other recommendations,  the report calls for training university counselling staff to deal with issues of sexual assault and harassment; timely and appropriate procedures to address reports, free after-hours shuttle buses to nearby transport hubs and university security services which provide escorts between points on campus after dark.

Victoria Police spokesperson Belinda Nolan told Meld that “Victoria Police takes the issue of sexual assault extremely seriously. Over recent years we have seen an increase in the number of sexual assault reports, indicating that more victims are gaining the confidence to come forward to police.”

“We encourage victims to come forward and tell their story, whether that be to initiate an investigation or to provide information or intelligence,” said Ms Nolan.

In 2009, Victoria Police established the Sexual Offences and Child Abuse Investigation Teams (SOCIT) which according to Ms Nolan, “has significantly improved the police response to victims of sexual assault and child abuse.”

“SOCITs are teams of specialist detectives who are specially trained to investigate the complex crimes of sexual offences and child abuse and provide a more victim centred response.

“In association with other agencies, SOCITs deal with a case from the time of disclosure, through the investigation process and then on to court.

“SOCITs work closely with our partner agencies such as Centre Against Sexual Assault and Child Protection to ensure victims’ welfare needs are met.

This model also means that victims are able to establish an ongoing relationship and trust with one or two police members and don’t have to continually retell their personal experiences.”

If you have been a victim of harassment, contact your university security and/or counselling services, or seek help from your local SOCIT