Auckland University terminates enrolment after alleged rape victim attempts suicide

By Kendall Hutt, originally published on Stuff

A women's group says New Zealand must do more to support survivors of sexual violence after the University of Auckland ended the enrolment of an alleged rape victim.

The international student, who cannot be named, came to New Zealand in 2015 and is pursuing a double degree in science and health science.

In October 2019, she was admitted to a mental health unit, where she was allegedly raped. She then attempted suicide.

In December, she received a letter from the office of the vice-chancellor terminating her enrolment.

"It is clear there has been a change to the state of your mental health leading up to these events, and you did not promptly inform the International Office about this change as you were required to do under your enrolment conditions," it read.

"We have received advice ... that it is not possible to ensure a safe environment or provide adequate support for your well-being in New Zealand.

"As the university is required under the Education (Pastoral Care of International Students) Code of Practice to provide adequate support for the wellbeing of international students, it is not possible to allow you to remain as an international student enrolled in a course of study at the university."

A later email from Immigration New Zealand told her that she would be deported.

"This is because your visa conditions state that you may study at Auckland University and today that was terminated," it said.

It is understood the student plans to appeal that decision and the Auckland University Students' Association is providing support to her.

National Council of Women president Lisa Lawrence said despite New Zealand's image as "a safe and welcoming haven" for young people, students were vulnerable to the same risks as other communities.

"Sexual violence and abuse is no exception and as a country we have to do better to prevent abuse and support those who have experienced it."

Lawrence said it was difficult to draw a position on whether or not the university's decision was the right one as New Zealand privacy laws meant it could not share her personal information.

However, it was "good to see" the woman accessing the appeals process, she said.

"I hope that she has adequate support to be able to undergo this process and be able to present her case in the best light possible."

The National Council of Women wanted all universities to comprehensive student wellness plans for their campuses, including external partnerships, to support students going through significant health events and mental health challenges.

In a statement, the University of Auckland said the decision to terminate the student's enrolment was based on advice from her medical team that she was at high risk if she continued to study in New Zealand.

"Our assessment, following meetings and conversations with them and the student's family, was that exceptional circumstances meant we could not continue to meet our obligations to her under the Education (Pastoral Care of International Students) Code of Practice 2016."

The institution was "absolutely confident" it had adequately supported the woman and treated her with care and compassion.

Preliminary results from the biggest New Zealand study into the prevalence of sexual victimisation at university, released in 2019, suggested one in three students would be sexually assaulted while they were studying. 

The research involved 2700 students at a New Zealand university who were asked if they had a non-consensual sexual experience. 

More than a third, or 36 per cent of total respondents, said they had experienced some form of sexual assault.

Broken down by gender, 41 per cent of women reported assault, and 22 per cent of men.

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  • Ncwnz Office
    published this page in News 2020-05-15 12:15:31 +1200

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