James Cook University slammed in report after promoting rapist

Date: Sep 28, 2017

A man who admitted to raping a James Cook University (JCU) student was later promoted by the institution, according to a damning sexual misconduct report.

Douglas David Steele assaulted the indigenous woman in a Townsville home in October 2015, only to be handed a role as an academic adviser in the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Centre.

The crime is just one of a number of sexual misconduct incidents that have been highlighted in a new report commissioned by former Sex Discrimination Commissioner Elizabeth Broderick.

Steele pled guilty to the rape in September last year, but was allowed to stay in his position at JCU until he received a two-year sentence, which was suspended after four months, in January 2017.

JCU senior management denied they knew about the guilty rape plea until two days after Steele resigned from the institution.

However, news.com.au reported in January that a whistleblower showed the newspaper documents that suggested the university was aware of his record as early as September 2016.

Sexual misconduct ‘rife’ at JCU

The Broderick report identified serious failings in the university’s approach to sexual assault victims, as well as an underlying toxic culture whereby older students and lecturers were regularly involved in sexual harassment.

Universities Australia data from the ‘Respect. Now. Always’ survey shows 26 per cent of JCU student respondents had been sexually harassed while travelling to or from the institution in 2015-16.

Moreover, 10 per cent of those who reported sexual harassment within the university claimed tutors or lecturers were responsible. The national average is 7 per cent.

One student who responded to the report said: “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’.”

JCU engaged Ms Broderick to write the report, and Vice Chancellor Professor Sandra Harding admitted the findings were “very disturbing”.

She encouraged students to come forward with their allegations to allow the university to address issues.

JCU reacts to scandal

According to Professor Harding, JCU has already taken a number of steps to improve its response to sexual assaults, including:

  • Better reporting guidelines;
  • Training for front-line staff;
  • Improved access to information;
  • Enhanced security and CCTV coverage;
  • Workshops on sexual assault for senior management; and
  • Code of Conduct reviews for staff.

“We are implementing strong and effective responses to sexual violence and harassment by fostering a community that features, at its core, respect, inclusion and safety for all,” Professor Harding stated.

If you or a loved one has experienced sexual assault at a university in Australia, please contact Gerard Malouf & Partners Compensation, Medical Negligence & Will Dispute Lawyers to see how we can help you seek redress.

Call us now on 1800 004 878 to book a free appointment with one of my compensation experts, or email your enquiry.