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Statement on sexual harassment conducted by Professor Peter Rathjen — 28 August 2020

Hannah Buchan, UMSU President

Aria Sunga and Naomi Smith, Officer Bearers UMSU Women’s Department 

CW: Sexual Assault and Harassment

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The UMSU Womenʻs Department is disgusted to hear of the sexual harassment committed by Peter Rathjen, the former Vice-Chancellor of the University of Adelaide. We condemn the University of Melbourne’s complicity in allowing a perpetrator of sexual harm to continue work in the University sector.

Yesterday, the South Australian Independent Commision Against Corruption (ICAC) announced that it found that Professor Peter Rathjen, the former Vice-Chancellor of the University of Adelaide, had committed serious misconduct by sexually harassing two colleagues in 2019. An ABC investigation has found that a former employer of the Rahtjen, the University of Melbourne, was aware of previous cases where Rathjen had harassed people and yet they failed to inform the University of Adelaide.

Professor Rathjen was employed at the University of Melbourne from 2006 to 2011. And it was during this time that a former student alleged he committed serious sexual misconduct while he was the Dean of Science between 2006 to 2008.

The student reported this case to the University of Melbourne in May of 2018 and the University upheld the misconduct complaint. Despite upholding the misconduct complaint the University failed to refer the new findings to the University of Adelaide – where Professor Rathjen was Vice-Chancellor. Their failure to refer to these findings enabled Rathjen to continue to offend at another University campus.

This is not the first case that has been in the media this year where the University reveals its negligence and complicitness in its responses to cases of sexual assault and harassment. It is time the University or Melbourne owned up and took responsibility for sexual assault and a harassment that occurs within the University community. The University again is showing its true colours where it upholds perpetrators in power rather than survivors. We are deeply concerned with the clearly consistent amateur approach that the University takes with responding to sexual assault and harassment. The University must do better.

UMSU also unequivocally stands with survivors – we hear you, we believe you, and we support you.

We call on the University to:

  • To adequately respond to the allegations that they failed to inform the University of Adelaide of the misconduct findings against Rathjen.
  • To release appropriately anonymised data on the outcomes of their sexual harassment misconduct cases.
  • To appoint external investigators, with appropriate sexual assault and harassment sensitivity training, for all sexual assault and harassment misconduct cases.
  • To increase funding and resources to the Safer Community program and ensure all itʻs processes are independent from the University.

In the coming days we will be penning an open letter to the Vice-Chancellor Duncan Maksell, asking him to respond to our demands, and also creating a petition to collect student signatures in support of this letter. We will not rest until the University takes responsibility for their complicity and makes substantial institutional changes.

Find the ABC article here: https://amp.abc.net.au/article/12601766?__twitter_impression=true

If this has brought up any issues or concerns for you, we encourage you to contact the following services:

Centre Against Sexual Assault House http://www.casahouse.com.au/

Phone 24 Hour hotline:  03 9635 3610

1800 Respect:

https://www.1800respect.org.au/

Phone: 1800 737 732, Interpreter: 13 14 50

UMSU Sexual Harm and Response Coordinator; Dr. Patrick Tidmarsh: patrick.tidmarsh@union.unimelb.edu.au

Unimelb Safer Communities:  https://safercommunity.unimelb.edu.au/

Phone: 9035 8675