A new campaign is calling for $600,000 a year for an independent panel to keep universities accountable over sexual abuse complaints.
Stop Sexual Harassment on Campus (SSHOC) Aotearoa has launched a petition calling for an independent body to monitor and report on the institutional response of universities to sexual violence on campus.
It follows concerns about how universities, including the University of Otago, handle those complaints.
The Otago Daily Times recently reported on multiple allegations of young female students being sexually assaulted in their Dunedin hall of residence this year.
The women were all unhappy with the way the university handled their complaints, particularly a lack of communication.
The ODT also revealed 13 complaints had been made about sexual behaviour at University of Otago-owned halls since the beginning of 2019.
Of those, three were upheld, six were not upheld, one was investigated and the parties were referred to restorative justice, and three could not be properly investigated because the alleged perpetrator voluntarily withdrew from the university.
In a statement SSHOC pointed to recent high profile issues including those at Otago and investigations into allegations at Auckland University of Technology, but said they were likely to be only the tip of the iceberg.
‘‘These instances have generated significant public backlash, reputational damage to the university sector, and most importantly, harm to those affected by sexual violence,’’ it said.
SSHOC compiled a report which said New Zealand universities had the opportunity to lead positive change.
The proposal was for an independent body which would audit two to three universities each year, meaning each university would be audited every three or four years. The audit findings would be published.
Any failure in compliance would be flagged and followed up with by the independent body.
A subsequent report would be published, detailing the positive steps the university had taken since the failure in compliance was noted.
The report also noted that students and staff accused of sexual violence moved universities to avoid investigation and disciplinary procedures.
SSHOC proposed that if perpetrators left the university before investigation and disciplinary procedures had been completed, the affected party consented to details being given to the independent body.
‘‘If an alleged perpetrator re-enrols or enrols at a new university, they are monitored and the investigation starts again.’’
SSHOC believed a budget of $600,000 was needed to cover the annual costs.
University registrar Chris Stoddart previously said under the university’s sexual misconduct policy and processes, the sexual misconduct action response team appointed by the vice-chancellor and headed by a specified co-ordinator had oversight of student sexual misconduct investigations.
Education Minister Chris Hipkins said sexual violence was a horrific experience, and anyone subjected to it deserved support. He strongly encouraged them to report it to police.
“The Government has consulted widely with students and the tertiary sector over the past two years to strengthen and widen practices in this area.’’
The New Zealand Qualifications Authority was the independent authority responsible for monitoring and investigating tertiary providers’ performance on pastoral care, he said.
“If students’ concerns are not effectively addressed by their provider, they can raise their concern with NZQA, who can investigate.’’
National Party tertiary education spokeswoman Penny Simmonds said she did not support an independent body being established.
Mrs Simmonds, the former chief executive of Invercargill’s Southern Institute of Technology, said universities had robust complaints processes which were reviewed as part of their quality assurance processes.