Aug 8, 2017

Rundle: AHRC uni sexual assault report seriously flawed and endangers academic freedom

The left have been quick to trumpet the Australian Human Rights Commission's "Changing the Course" report on sexual assault on university campuses, but the report plays fast and loose with statistics.

Guy Rundle — Correspondent-at-large

Guy Rundle


When with great fanfare, the AHRC last week released "Changing The Course", its report on sexual harassment and assault at Australian universities, commentators divided along the usual cultural left/cultural right lines. The AHRC kicked things off with a few horror stats, suggesting that 51% of all students at 39 Australian universities had been sexually harassed in the last two years, and 6.9% had been sexually assaulted (on or off campus). "End campus rape now" went up the signs on Twitter; talk of an epidemic went round the traps.

The right responded by reaching into the report to grab other stats, to announce that things weren't so bad. Bettina Arndt grabbed another assault figure -- 1.6% of students in university settings -- and said with baiting glee that this was "a great result", all things considered. Mark Latham and Andrew Bolt piled in on the nature of the survey underlying the report, which relied on voluntary, self-selecting, responses. Lenore Taylor hit back in The Guardian, defending the report’s safeguards against skewing by self-reporting, and largely endorsing its tone of quiet emergency, demanding instant action.

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20 thoughts on “Rundle: AHRC uni sexual assault report seriously flawed and endangers academic freedom

  1. Guy Rundle

    my apologies to readers – one of these charts is not the one i’m referring to in the text.
    where chart 4 is, chart 2 from the report should be (it’s on page 38)
    error was mine

    1. Guy Rundle

      that has now been fixed.

  2. Decorum

    One head of an ANU College made reference to the self-selection of the sample and its small size (whilst still acknowledging that the incidence numbers just on their own indicate a problem at ANU that needs to be addressed: “…[the Report] is telling us what a sample have been through – which is horrendous”.) But he has been taken to task already for the “disappointment and disgust” he caused because, “our focus at this point in time should not be whether the results are valid or not” and he has apologised.


    1. Guy Rundle

      thanks for drawing my attention to that.

  3. Itsarort

    The S.Hite report (circa 1976) revisited?

  4. Jack Robertson

    Christ, if I’d never lied to get a root I’d still be a virgin.

    Forensic stuff, and typically gutsy. Thnx. (You’ll be mercilessly flayed, of course. We blokes are all….erm…right behind ya…)

  5. Michael Bowles

    Thank you Guy Rundle, I was hoping someone had the guts to write and publish that.
    Bollocks reports do not help any real cause – they just add to the ‘fake news’ pile that allows people to cognitively dismiss out-of-hand the good quality reports they don’t agree with.

  6. Dog's Breakfast

    Yes, thanks Guy, I certainly wasn’t interested enough to go through the entrails of the report, glad that you did. I hate it when the rightards have a point.

    As an analyst, I hate a sloppy and poorly worded survey. If you don’t think about how you are going to parse the results before you send out the survey then you will ask sloppy questions, as has happened here. And surely it was important to distinguish between degrees of sexual assault so that a clearer picture could be gained. Violent assault and rape being equated in the same basket as trickery is a terrible error of judgement/survey design.

    I would also take issue with coerce. If you were coerced or tricked, was it done without your consent or against your will, by definition? Was the lack of consent/against their will a description of the act of coercion/trickery, or was it about the sexual act? Does one now need to get written permission to coerce/trick a young woman these days? (this is a hypothetical, I’m not asking for advice). What if a person coerced or tricked a woman into signing a form allowing them to attempt to coerce or trick them into having sex with them?

    Coercion and trickery – does normal, consensual sex ever happen without these two bedfellows?

    It also undermines the clarity of the ‘No means No!’ campaign, and in that respect could be quite self-defeating.

    Fark this is dumb.

  7. JQ

    Great work, Guy.
    I was immediately suspicious of the headline figures that the AHRC and then the MSM published. If sexual harassment/assault is so widespread on campus, it would already be a goddamned national scandal. How could any right minded parent allow their children to attend university under such conditions?
    Even a cursory look at the statistics and the murkiness of the definitions, including defining “on campus” as “en route to campus or at any university event” suggested to me that the accuracy of the figures was questionable.
    The Age online’s breathless response declared “One-in-five-students-sexually-harassed-at-university-landmark-report-reveals.” What it actually showed was that one in five students that reported being sexually harassed (which was 23% of the sample) over the course of the last year reported that the harassment happened at university, as widely defined as “at university” was in the report.

    So what, then, was the agenda of the AHRC in publicizing its report in the way that it did? Another excuse to mandate indoctrination into (young) people’s private behaviour? The calls for training on what constitutes appropriate/respectful dating were almost immediate. On the morning of the report’s release in either the AFR or the Oz there was an article discussing the possibility that an Australian university will consider mandatory consent training, with degrees not conferred until such training is passed.
    What right do universities have to administer and mandate these types of programs? One’s political views are sure to be next on the agenda.

    1. Guy Rundle

      A key point is that the AHRC was commissioned to do this report by the V-Cs of 39 universities. The AHRC then sub-contracted the conduct of the survey. To my mind, it raises serious questions about doing social policy research in this way. After all, the AHRC can hardly come out and say ‘new report utterly indeterminate on sexual harassment/assault on campuses’ can they? Heh.

  8. Woopwoop

    Good work Guy. Muddying the waters of truth serves nobody.

  9. rhwombat

    “It is a tale,
    Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
    Signifying nothing.”

  10. AR

    This will become another meme for the headbangers, along with Climategate emails, pink batts & BER whenever they want to stick their fingers in their ears and go “nyah, nyah, can’t hear you”.
    An idea is not responsible for the people who hold it.

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