Our say | Everyone must play a role to stop sex assault

CHARLES Sturt University should be congratulated for its swift response to allegations of sexual harassment and sexual assault on its campuses.

A survey of 800 CSU students found 18 per cent said they had been sexually harassed at university and 3.3 per cent said they had been sexually assaulted between 2015-16.

They are shocking figures and particularly concerning for the parents of thousands of students who have been forced to leave their homes from right across regional NSW to pursue tertiary education at CSU.

But rather than try to explain away the findings or water down their significance, CSU has accepted there is a problem and adopted recommendations from the Human Rights Commission in a bid to fix it.

Among the initiatives CSU has already put in place that address the new guidelines is the Playing Right program, which aims to improve bystander response to sexual assault and harassment among students and includes compulsory two-hour, face-to-face training for students who live on campus in 2018. It is also compulsory for students in leadership positions such as O Week Leaders and Student Representative Council members.

But the CSU executive cannot solve this problem alone.

Real change must come from the perpetrators of the appalling behaviour that has created a culture of fear on campuses in the first place.

There must a renewed sense of personal responsibility among students that respects those around them and understands the rights of others.

It is appropriate for CSU to keep working on its own own policies, procedures and training programs, but they can only be effective when everyone involved in campus life takes a stance against sexual harassment and sexual assault – including recognising their own bad behaviour.

These are not children we are talking about – they are adults making their way in an adult world.

It is not acceptable for perpetrators of sexual assault and sexual harassment to somehow blame the university for not preventing them from offending, just as it would be outrageous for the perpetrators to blame their victims for allowing an assault to occur.

Yes, universities must do better but in the end only one person is truly responsible for a sexual assault – the offender. They are the ones who must really change.