Recent media articles published by the NZ Herald detailed the University of Auckland’s response to two separate reports of sexual violence in Residence Halls last year. In both cases, the perpetrators were permitted to continue studying, despite the Proctor agreeing they committed rape.
Thursdays in Black UoA (TIB), a student-led movement working to eliminate sexual violence on campus, shared in a statement, “To both wāhine and all survivors, we believe you, we hear you, we support you.” In their open letter condemning the University’s response, the group stated that despite the University’s promising Harmful Sexual Behaviours Action Plan, they have seen minimal progress to keep campus safe.
The organisation has encouraged UoA students to wear black on Thursdays in solidarity with survivors of sexual violence. “It is now more than ever important to be resilient and keep pushing for safer spaces. By wearing black, we stand in solidarity and advocate for survivors, to show that they are not alone and that we see them, hear them, and support them.” They have also offered to visit individual Halls, recently visiting Waipārūrū Hall to hand out badges and brooches and answer questions.
Executive members met with Campus Life, which operates a range of wellbeing services, including Accommodation, Counselling, and Health Services, on 29th March to share student concerns about how the University handled these cases. TIB Director Vivian Whyte told Craccum that this meeting was “frustrating and distressing but not hopeless.” “Essentially, they maintain that they did all they could within their power, but that their power is limited.”
“The people in that meeting share our sentiment that the current system isn’t fit for purpose, even acknowledging that it creates more harm to survivors in some instances. They agreed to an independent review of how the University responds to sexual violence, and we’ve made it clear that as students we want to be seen as partners in this review.”
The University responded to the first article in an email to students, stating that while the Proctor’s decision was made in “good faith”, their disciplinary response was inadequate. The Proctor’s decision has since been overturned, with a Discipline Committee (DC) hearing set to take place.
The University states that the first case, handled in October 2021, was reopened for review after “significant new evidence” came to light. This new evidence has been reported as a taped phone call, where the alleged perpetrator admitted to the survivor that he had raped her. Following the second article, the University will now review the second case and all cases involving harmful sexual behaviour. According to the TIB Director, the University is currently seeking external legal advice on whether the second case should be escalated to DC.
Stop Sexual Harassment on Campus (SSHOC), a group of staff and students from Aotearoa’s eight universities, have been alongside Thursdays in Black consistently calling for an independent body to address the mishandling of sexual violence cases by tertiary institutions.
In a Press Release, they called for urgent Government intervention, and for the Minister of Education to respond to systemic issues activists have been highlighting for decades. “Once again we hear how survivors of abuse have been let down by their own Universities—with systems and people who are more concerned about following antiquated processes rather than putting the needs of the survivor at the forefront.”
Moving forward, TIB Director Vivian Whyte told Craccum that AUSA and TIB are teaming up to promote a campaign “Still Not Asking For It”—which aims to hold the University to account regarding recent sexual assault cases and connect students to sexual violence resources and help. “Enough is enough. By teaming up we aim to mobilise the student voice and achieve the big changes our University community needs to see. Watch this space as we continue the mahi together and ask the hard questions.”