A damning new review of James Cook University has revealed a toxic culture of sexual assault, predatory behaviour from academics, and a failure to properly deal with incidences of rape and sexual assault.
The independent report, commissioned by the university and former Sex Discrimination Commissioner Elizabeth Broderick, comes after a News Corp investigation found that a staff member accused of rape was promoted rather than dismissed. Christ.
It also comes after a report released in August found that 8% of students – a.k.a. approximately 1,729 students – at JCU experienced rape or sexual assault across 2015 and 2016, but that not one student or staff member was expelled or suspended.
This new report, published exclusively on News.com.au, sheds a light on the toxic culture pervading the university.
Several staff members complained about a culture where predatory staff members with “wandering hands” would sexually target students.
“Exploitation is easy if someone wants to do it,” one male staff member told the review, while another described how one lecturer “points out each year which girls he wants to sleep with, [and] says he’ll only help pretty girls.”
A third staff member described some academics as “untouchable”, with the university turning a blind eye so they don’t ruining someone’s career.
Elsewhere, victims of sexual assault and rape described how they were met with unacceptable and damaging responses from staff members when reporting these incidences.
“I told [a senior academic] that I had been sexually assaulted by someone in my year, in my course, and the first response was, ‘Are you sure? Maybe you should talk to him to make certain it was rape’,” said one student.
Another described how, when they told a safety officer about being sexually assaulted on a field trip, was told, “I don’t know how to deal with this.” When they told a senior staff member, they were told that “if you say that this has had significant impact [on you], the risk assessment people will shut down field trips. But we will get you counselling.” The student says they are “still waiting.”
A third student told the report she felt “suicidal” after being raped by a classmate.
“The assault happened to me in first year … The perpetrator is in my year. I had such an innocent mind, people take advantage … It was hard for the first two to three years, I shied away from attending class … it’s a constant battle to get through the degree … I felt suicidal.”
And a fourth told the report that “the upper year guys in our course take advantage of the first year girls… then gossip happens and everybody finds out… it’s really sad but a couple of girls actually tried to commit suicide within the last month.”
Broderick described these report findings as neither unexpected nor isolated to JCU, but commended the university for commissioning the report and responding to the issues raised. Vice chancellor Professor Sarah Harding says the university has “learned some very hard lessons”, and will be implementing all 32 of the recommendations made. To that we say: thank fuck.
If you or someone you know has experienced sexual assault, help is available by calling 1800 RESPECT on 1800 737 732.
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Image: James Cook University