Universities Australia has apologised following the results of a nationwide survey on sexual assault. 

The survey of close to 50,000 students found one in six students had been sexually harassed since starting at university and one in twelve has been sexually harassed in the past 12 months.

One in twenty students reported being sexually assaulted since starting at university and 1.1 per cent said they have been sexually assaulted in the past 12 months.

Women are far more likely to be sexually harassed or sexually assaulted than men, accoridng to the survey. It also found that sexuality and gender diverse students are at significantly greater risk than all other groups of being sexually harassed or sexually assaulted. 

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, people living with disabilities, and people from culturally diverse backgrounds, are also student cohorts at greater risk of sexual harassment and sexual assault. The majority of perpetrators are male. One in 20 alleged perpetrators were university staff members.

The report includes cases of unwanted sexual advances on campus, stalkers, being touched inappropriately or being subjected to sexual comments during classes.

Universities Australia’s chair Professor John Dewar said “on behalf of Universities Australia and its 39 members, I am deeply sorry”. 

“To every single University student who has experienced sexual harassment or sexual assault, or has a friend, family member or loved one who has – I am sorry. I am sorry for what you endured,” Prof Dewar told students. 

“I am sorry for how that may have affected your relationships, your mental health, your studies and your life.”

He said that widespread cultural change is needed.

“Your contribution helps us make change and see where measures may have fallen short, and where there are green shoots of cultural change,” he said.

“The survey results are part of a growing body of evidence in Australia which shows that sexual harassment and sexual assault are pervasive in all corners of our society.

“As a nation, this cannot be tolerated, and as a sector, we will continue to be part of the solution.”

He said some institutions had already made important changes.

“These include better reporting and evidence collection processes, consent training, respectful relationship education for students, stronger guidelines for relationships between supervisors and students, and overhauling the way reports of sexual harassment or sexual assault are handled by a university,” he said.

“We are working hard to make our campuses physically safer and more secure. We know we need to do more, and we will do it. These findings will guide our continuing work.”