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October 1, 2018 | by  | in News |
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Very Few Sexual Misconduct Incidents Recorded by Universities

The past few years have brought more visibility to sexual assault cases than ever before, with movements like Time’s Up and #MeToo highlighting the prevalence of sexual misconduct in the lives of countless women and men. Just scroll through the #MeToo VUW student blog, and you’ll find a plethora of stories, each one different, yet all of them telling the same story: sexual assault is a huge problem on university campuses.
Earlier this year, Salient filed OIA requests to universities around New Zealand to find out how many reports each institution had on record. We asked for the number of recorded sexual assaults that happened on campus property within the last decade. The result? Universities across New Zealand recorded a shockingly low number of reported assaults each year.
Victoria University recorded only three total incidents of sexual misconduct in 2017, while University of Canterbury recorded two and University of Auckland recorded seven. Lincoln University recorded only five incidents in the last decade. Auckland University of Technology recorded only two complaints of sexual harassment last year (not many compared to the 15 cases of bullying recorded in the same time frame), and the University of Otago couldn’t provide records at all, claiming that such reports were “scattered” or “inconclusive”.

When asked how many of these incidents involved a staff member as the perpetrator, the universities listed little to no reports. These numbers do not match up to the endless testimonies from women and men across social media and activism platforms who have experienced assault on campus.
“The numbers seem really low”, said Conor Twyford, Chief Executive of Wellington Sexual Abuse HELP.
“It’d be interesting to see what the definition of sexual misconduct is in each institution,” she added.
She said that fear of limiting their career, fearing detriment to their academic careers, and an imbalance of power, are often reasons students choose not to report cases of sexual misconduct.
“One problem is that people don’t know that they can complain, or how to do it,” said VUWSA Welfare VP Beth Paterson.
NZUSA released a report in August last year, In Our Own Words. It found that 83% of respondents reported being sexually harassed on a university campus, and 53% respondents reported having been sexually assaulted during their time at university. The survey was opt-in, with over 1400 responses.
Many people on the VUWSA #MeToo blog say that their assault took place in a supposedly safe place like a dorm room or a friend’s campus housing. In many of the cases, the perpetrator was someone who the individual trusted — a significant other, a close friend, and sometimes an RA. Beth said the blog exists “to force policy makers to acknowledge there is a problem”.
Earlier in the year, a chemistry tutor at Vic allegedly groped females, made sexual comments, and followed them home.
When Salient tried to get information on this case, the university confirmed that they were unable to take restorative action.
“A restorative process requires the voluntary participation of all parties involved,” they said. “In this case, not all of the parties wished to be involved in such a process, so it did not take place.”
“ Having student-led initiatives like the Thursdays in Black club means we can start from scratch and those most affected by sexual violence on campus have more power and agency […] they can be the ones setting the agenda,” said Beth.
Where to Get Help:
• VUWSA Advocate, Erica Schouten | advocate@vuwsa. org.nz | 04 463 6984 (here to confidentially discuss your options with you)
• Student Interest and Conflict Resolution Office | Emma Mossman | emma.mossman@vuw.ac.nz
• Wellington Sexual Abuse HELP Crisis Line | 04 801 6655 (Sexual abuse counselling)
• Rape Crisis | 0800 883 300 04 801 8973 (Wellington) (for support after rape or sexual assault)

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