By Will Koulouris
SYDNEY, Feb. 27 (Xinhua) -- Australian universities are being accused of being complicit in covering up instances of sexual assault, with experts warning that international students are at a heightened risk of vulnerability.
In a submission to Australia's Human Rights Commission, advocacy group End Rape on Campus Australia (EROC) says universities have failed in protecting their students, with over 500 cases of sexual assault reported over the last five years, but only six expulsions of students accused.
Sharna Bremner, founder of EROC, told Xinhua that international students are even more at risk than Australian students, and in particular, students that have come from Asia.
"There are a lot of barriers to reporting sexual abuse, particularly if you are from an Asian background," Bremner said.
Bremner said she has liaised with a rape crisis center that deals with "a lot of Asian girls who come there pregnant," only to discover after communication difficulties that they were in fact raped.
The EROC report cites a number of examples, including one where a female international student living on campus awoke to find a man raping her.
When reporting the assault, the student was asked by management if it was possible she was mistaken, as she had been drinking, and because the man may have simply misunderstood the situation.
The manager, employed by the university, decided to take no further action as there was insufficient evidence to prove the student hadn't consented.
This was despite the manager at no point involving the authorities, helping the female student seek counselling, or even providing any information as to the university's sexual assault policy.
In another instance highlighted in the report, a female international student was assaulted by a male at a party, who admitted the crime and was made to transfer between residential colleges, but the university took no further action, nor did it provide any further support to the international student.
Bremner hopes the submission to the Human Rights Commission will see the universities finally admit that there is a problem on their campuses.
"We hope they are finally going to step up and take responsibility for the actions that they can take, that they have not been taking," Bremner said.
The submission stresses that international students are more vulnerable, as they can be "socially isolated" or face "additional barriers" to reporting their assaults, with contributor Professor Catharine Lumby of Macquarie University saying universities are allowing "shameful" levels of assaults on campus.
"Too often, our universities have dealt with sexual assault and harassment of students by turning a blind eye, by claiming it is not their responsibility or, most shamefully, by actively covering up assaults," Lumby said.
"It is time to face the evidence and put a full stop to harassment and assault on campus."