A landmark inquiry has called for an taskforce on university sexual violence.

The report from a Senate inquiry addressing sexual consent laws contains a unanimous recommendation for the creation of an independent taskforce to hold universities and colleges accountable for addressing sexual violence. 

Students, as part of the review, disclosed numerous instances of mishandled sexual violence complaints. The review, conducted by the University Accord panel, comes as the government prepares for significant changes to higher education.

The STOP Campaign, a student-led initiative, submitted over 50 accounts of assault within universities and colleges. Students expressed concern about the submission timeline coinciding with exam season, limiting their ability to voice their concerns effectively. 

They also presented recommendations for sector improvement to safeguard future cohorts.

Students claimed that their complaints about sexual violence had not been taken seriously by tertiary institutions, with alleged perpetrators placed in pastoral care positions, exacerbating victims' trauma.

The National Student Safety Survey reveals that an average of 275 students face assault on campuses each week.

The Senate report condemned the university sector, saying; “Numerous students have been irreparably, needlessly and inexcusably harmed, including (shamefully) through the response of universities…” (pg 115)

It said that the regulator TEQSA “has continually failed to exercise the full breadth of its powers to hold universities accountable for their woeful responses.” (pg 116)

The report said that the “ramshackle process and inferior result” of the Universities Australia campaign on consent, “should be an embarrassment to the university sector”.

Taking aim at the Federal Government, the Senate Committee said it “understands that a working group will be convened to advise the education ministers”, but warned that “the time for 'working groups' has passed”.

The committee recommends that a taskforce be created to:

  • establish an effective and accessible complaints process

  • possess strong powers to enforce consequences if universities and residences fail to meet safety standards

  • ensure transparency in universities and colleges' efforts to prevent and respond to sexual violence on campuses

Despite Labor's 2019 election promise to create such a taskforce, the government has not yet confirmed its establishment. 

Education Minister Jason Clare has initiated a working group to address university governance issues, led by Patty Kinnersley, CEO of gendered violence prevention group Our Watch. This working group is expected to present its findings in November.

Advocates argue that waiting until November is too long. They emphasise the need for an independent task force staffed with experts in violence prevention and response to initiate immediate change.

In response to the Senate report, Minister Clare acknowledged the gravity of the evidence presented. He expressed the government's commitment to addressing the issue and ensuring a safe environment for university staff and students.

Universities Australia, in response to questions regarding re-traumatisation of students and the call for a task force, reiterated its commitment to combating sexual violence. The lobby says it is working closely with Patty Kinnersley, who is advising the government on ways to strengthen university governance