Statement: NSS Survey 2021

The release today by Universities Australia of the National Student Safety Survey (NSSS) shows that La Trobe University and the sector still have work to do to address sexual harassment and sexual assault, despite progress made since the release of the ‘Change the Course’ report in 2017. 

The Universities Australia national report and La Trobe’s results can be viewed on our website.

The findings make for uncomfortable reading but shed more light on university students’ experiences of sexual harassment and sexual assault. These data provide critical information to underpin the next wave of programs and supports to help us prevent and respond to this deeply concerning behaviour.

A single case of sexual harm is one too many at La Trobe University, at all universities and across society as a whole. Whether on campus, online, or off campus in students’ own homes, pubs and clubs, every student has a right to feel safe and respected.

To all members of our La Trobe community who have experienced sexual harassment or sexual assault, we are profoundly sorry.

We will continue to do everything in our power to prevent sexual harassment and sexual assault on our campuses and to deliver confidential, respectful and supportive processes for reporting and responding to incidents of sexual harm and tailored support to victim-survivors.

2021 National Student Safety Survey – La Trobe University

Student and staff safety and wellbeing has always been, and always will be, the highest priority for La Trobe University.

Most recently, we have invested $2.3m in additional specialist staff to provide student wellbeing support, deliver training and prevention programs and conduct investigations into cases of sexual harm.

We accepted and implemented all the recommendations of the 2017 ’Change the Course’ report and have instigated a wide range of initiatives to address the sexual harm on campus. These range from:

  • Research-informed prevention initiatives such as the evidence-based sexual assault resistance prevention program, Enhanced Assess Acknowledge Act
  • A single point of reporting and comprehensive support service accessed through Safer Community
  • Significant research projects in the field of gender and violence, including TramLAB: Improving the Safety of Women and Girls on Public Transport
  • Launch of the Health and Wellbeing Resource Centre, which provides students and the community we serve with information on sexual harm, gender-based violence, family violence and stalking
  • Mandatory consent training for all students living in campus accommodation
  • Evidence-based bystander intervention workshops and communication campaigns
  • Perpetrator intervention and training programs specifically designed for the first instance of problematic behaviour, where mandatory training is a proportionate outcome (eg. staring or making sexist, inappropriate or suggestive comments)
  • Significant investment in improved safety and security measures around our campuses.

Read our background document for further information on these initiatives.

2021 National Student Safety Survey

A total of 959 La Trobe students participated in the survey. The survey was conducted in September 2021, with 43,819 students overall taking part from 38 participating Australian universities. We actively encouraged our students to participate, though participation rates were low both at La Trobe and nationally.

Two important differences should be noted between the 2021 and the 2016 surveys: the 2021 survey period was at a time when many campuses were locked down because of COVID-19 and more than 75 per cent of La Trobe students did not attend a campus.

The questions asked and the methodologies used in the 2021 survey also differ markedly to the 2016 survey (released in 2017) which prevents direct comparison of results.

The 2021 NSSS survey results for La Trobe indicate the following:

  • La Trobe remains above the national average for sexual harassment and our focus must remain on prevention, support and the creation of safe physical and online spaces for students.
  • Our students are twice as likely to report and seek support from the University after experiencing sexual assault than the national average, though a significant proportion of our students still do not how to report these serious matters.
  • Female students from La Trobe are less likely to experience sexual assault and harassment than their peers nationally. Despite the progress we have made, there is a gendered basis for sexual harassment and sexual assault, and we must maintain a key focus on reducing violence against women.
  • Importantly this survey provides greater insight into the experience of gender diverse students, who experience higher than average rates of sexual harassment and sexual assault and who are less likely to report these experiences to the University. This must change.  We will work with our sexually diverse students and experts to explore and address this serious issue.

Next steps

La Trobe University has an ongoing commitment to prevent sexual violence and other harmful behaviour on campus and supporting and empowering survivors of sexual harm.

We will use findings from the 2021 NSSS and work in partnership with our students to review and build upon our extensive range of existing programs, training and supports. This year’s data provide much needed insight into the experience of our student community, and we will immediately respond by committing to:

  • Implement mandatory consent and respectful relationships training for all students, building on our existing respectful relationships and consent training (currently mandatory for on-campus accommodation students).
  • Develop targeted programs and supports to prevent and respond to sexual harm in our gender diverse and LGBTIQA+ communities.
  • Specifically address online sexual harassment, reviewing and further developing existing resources around appropriate online behaviour, launched during the COVID-19 pandemic.

If you, or someone you know is in immediate or imminent danger on-campus contact:

Police on 000 (0 000 from office phones) then campus security on ext. 2222 or 9479 2222.

We understand that conversations about the NSSS and its results can be distressing for members of our University and wider community. The reports contain discussion and descriptions of sexual harassment and sexual assault. They also contain mentions of self-harm, drug use and suicide ideation.

If you would like to speak to somebody for support, staff are encouraged to contact our Employee Assistance Program (EAP) for free confidential counselling. Our Safer Community services and supports for students can be found here.

Sexual harm is a challenge we must all address within our University and across the broader community. At La Trobe we care about every member of our community, and by working together we will strive to make a difference.

Professor John Dewar AO, Vice-Chancellor, La Trobe University

Other supports available in addition to La Trobe’s support services: