Saturday, December 4

The University of Otago’s handling of complaints of sexual misconduct is questioned


First published on Otago Daily Times

By Daisy hudson

Calls for the creation of an independent body to consider complaints about sexual misconduct at universities, as new information comes to light regarding complaints at University of Otago residence halls.

The clock tower building of the University of Otago.

The University of Otago’s jurisdiction over sexual complaints extends to current members only, so if a student left, no penalty can be imposed, says its registrar.
Photo: RNZ / Don T

The Otago Daily Times may reveal that 13 complaints about sexual behavior have been filed in college-owned hallways since early 2019.

Of these, three were confirmed, six unconfirmed, one was investigated and the parties were referred to restorative justice, and three could not be duly investigated due to the alleged perpetrator voluntarily withdrawing from the university.

Of the complaints that were sustained, one student was excluded from the university, another was excluded for a semester, and in the third case the disciplinary action was instigated by the residence hall but the student withdrew from the university before the process was completed. .

None of the complaints were referred to the police, an action the university said all the complainants refused to take.

For Thursday in Black co-director Rebecca Shepherd, the news highlighted the need for greater oversight of how reports of sexual misconduct were handled.

Jueves de Negro is a student-run organization that works to prevent sexual violence.

Shepherd said the investigations that ended when the subject voluntarily left the university meant that due process was not being followed.

“We want the university to be held accountable in situations like that, where the survivor may not be getting the outcome they want.

“It gives the university a chance to clean its hands of anything that has gone wrong.”

Jueves de Negro called for the creation of an independent body to investigate complaints of sexual misconduct at universities and hold them accountable for their responses.

“I think that’s really important and something that should be implemented relatively quickly.”

She believed there had been good progress since early 2019, when a series of allegations about normalizing sexual assault at Knox College made headlines.

He cited the university’s center for prevention and support of sexual violence, Te Whare Tawharau, which said it had increased its efforts in the wake of the scandal.

But he also believed that there was more to be done and felt that the number of reported cases would be less than the actual number of incidents.

University Registrar Chris Stoddart said that under the University’s Sexual Misconduct Policy and Processes, the Sexual Misconduct Action Response Team (smart) appointed by the chancellor and headed by a specific coordinator , oversaw investigations of student sexual misconduct.

“Smart has the main function of supervising that the process is followed and that the parties involved receive adequate support.”

The university’s jurisdiction extended only to its current members, so if a student left, they could not be required to continue cooperating with its processes and no sanction could be imposed, he said.

“If the person in question sought to return to the university later, the university would require that he respond to any complaints against him before deciding whether he could return.”

The university offered support through Te Whare Tawharau, he said.

This story first appeared in the Otago Daily Times and is published with their permission.


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