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May 20, 2013 | by  | in News |
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Cleaner Watched Students Showering

An alleged sexual predator working for a cleaning company contracted by the University has been banned from Victoria University premises after being found watching at least three Hall of Residence students in the shower.

The man, a cleaner at the Cumberland Hall of Residence, also attempted to gain access to residents’ rooms. He was removed from duties after residents expressed concerns to Hall management, who then raised the matter with the cleaning contractor.

Victoria University awards contracts for cleaning services to private providers. Associate Director of Student Accommodation Nick Merrett said that the University was not responsible for dealing with the incidents under this arrangement, despite operating the Hall in which the alleged offending took place.

“It is the contractor’s responsibility to investigate the allegations that have been made,” said Merrett.

“The contractor has advised the University that on Saturday 4 May, the cleaner was removed from cleaning duties at all Victoria residential halls and instructed not to return to any University sites.”

Despite the instruction not to return to University property, one of the victims sighted the man at the Kelburn campus following her incident.

“You’d think they’d get rid of him completely. I can’t believe they’re still employing him at all, to be honest. It’s quite crazy.”

The man watched at least three students at Cumberland through a 2 cm gap where the door to a shower room does not quite meet the wall. Salient spoke to a female Cumberland resident, one of the three students watched through the gap by the man, who said he had been “creepy” to her before.

“[He had previously] told me I was pretty and stuff, and I just brushed it off … I went to have a shower one day, and he saw me as he was waiting for the lift, and I walked past and heard the lift go and so I thought, ‘He’s gone, I’ll be fine’—I’d heard about [him watching another person] looking through the gap.

“So I was about to get changed, and I could see him right there, leaning in. He’d obviously left the lift and was pretending to clean around the door. I froze, and got really scared, and was like ‘Can you go away?’… and hid in the shower for ten minutes before I could do anything again.”

The student talked to her RA, who called Residential Life Manager Ben Pereira, arranging a meeting that night. An hour later, the student was told the man would be barred entry to Cumberland and have his swipe cards revoked.

Another Cumberland resident who spoke to Salient had been approached in her room by the man.

“He just came and knocked on my door, and he had ten cents, and he asked if it was mine and it wasn’t. He’s done that to a couple of other girls too.

“He asked me what my name was, and went to shake my hand and then started stroking it and stuff, saying that I was really beautiful. Then he gave me all his hours, and told me I should go and talk to him [when he was working],” she said.

A third student reported the man knocked on a girl’s door and “told her she had nice legs”.

All students spoken to praised the Hall management’s handling of the situation, with the first student being reassured the man would not be at Cumberland any longer, and offered an RA escort to and from her room.

“They took it seriously, which was good,” she said.

VUWSA Equity Officer Matthew Ellison described the alleged behaviour of the man as “abhorrent”, and was pleased with accounts of the actions taken by Hall management.

“Such behaviour … is of particular concern when it’s from someone who had access to the buildings where these students live,” said Ellison.

Ellison hoped the employee’s barring from Cumberland would also result in a termination of employment at any Victoria property. He encouraged students not to stay silent on such issues.

“If students have similar complaints … report it to an RA. If it’s not followed up or dealt with properly VUWSA will advocate for students who are being harassed, abused or treated unfairly,” said Ellison.

Helen Sullivan, General Manager of the Sexual Abuse Help Foundation, encouraged students affected by this or similar incidents not to “shrug off ” such events, as patterns of abuse are likely to continue unless someone speaks up.

“It is not uncommon for people to… think it is just creepy or gross but not worth making a fuss about, so they don’t tell anyone. However, as in this instance, such behaviour may not be an isolated event so speaking to someone who can take it further is really helpful.

“More could be done to ensure that student accommodation is safer for the students living there,” said Sullivan.

Cumberland Hall is situated on upper Willis St and houses 227 students. Previously under the management of uStay, this is the first year the Hall has been under University management.

The Sexual Abuse Help Foundation can be contacted through their website, wellingtonhelp.org.nz.

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