Do the stats back up the narrative of a ‘rape crisis’ on campus?

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In response to a Human Rights Commission report, Australian universities have pledged to offer sexual consent courses and tighten their assault reporting processes. But how entrenched is rape culture on campus?

Explainer video above, opinion videos below.

In 2015, when Brock Turner (the American student convicted of raping and assaulting an unconscious female college student behind a dumpster at a fraternity party) served just three months of his six-month jail sentence, international campaigns to end rape on university campuses went into overdrive.

But to some (including sex therapist and conservative columnist, Bettina Arndt, interviewed below), the extent of sexual assault on campus has been overblown, and universities’ efforts to curb perceived violence can do more harm than good. Ms Arndt is due to speak about the issue at the University of Sydney tomorrow.

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"Activists have spent years beating up this idea that we have a huge problem," says Bettina Arndt.

University of Sydney alum and current director of End Rape on Campus Australia, Anna Hush (interviewed below), thinks the message Ms Arndt has been spruiking on her campus tour undermines the “crisis” women face on campus. 

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"Relatively minor acts like leering create a culture where sexual assault is normalised," says Anna Hush.  

According to the US-based National Sexual Violence Resource Centre, 27 per cent of college women have experienced some form of unwanted sexual contact, and more than 90 per cent of sexual assault victims on college campuses do not report the assault.

According to ‘Change the Course’, a report by the Australian Human Rights Commission based on a survey of 30,000 students, one in five Australian students reported being sexually harassed on campus at least once in 2016. And women were twice as likely as men to be sexually harassed. Note: sexual harassment is different to sexual assault. Harassment includes acts like unwanted leering.  

However, the Australian Bureau of Statistics conducts its own survey and found that in the year to June 2016 just one per cent of 18-24-year-olds and 0.7 per cent of 25-34-year-olds said they’d been sexually assaulted. However, the ABS doesn’t survey people living in what they call “non-private dwellings”. That means, if you live in university accommodation, you're not counted, so this leaves out a significant proportion of students.