FOI request paints a dirty picture of sexual assault at Australian universities

An 18th birthday should be a milestone marked by celebration and cheer. But for Jannika Jacky, it will always be remembered as the day that she was raped.

A first year college student studying a Bachelor of Science at the University of Western Australia, Jannika had started the evening of her birthday by gathering with friends at her college residence before heading out to a bar to celebrate. A young drinker, the alcohol soon took effect and Jannika became violently ill.

"[At that point] I thought, 'Time to go, time to go home,' [which was] relatively responsible considering my state.

"So then I went to my friend and said, 'I feel really crap, can you please help me get home?' and he [said], 'Oh okay, yep sure, let's get you in a taxi and let's go back to college.'"

Jannika expected that her fellow college student and friend would help her. "If you care about a person as a friend then you do what regular people do with their drunk friends. You look after them and you give them water and you get them to bed.

Olivia Todhunter is another survivor who spoke to Sunday Night. Photo / Channel 7
Olivia Todhunter is another survivor who spoke to Sunday Night. Photo / Channel 7

"You don't assault them."

But that's precisely what Jannika says happened next.

"I remember walking into the room. I remember turning the light switch on and then I remember him walking up behind me [and] turning the light switch off and then having me against the wall and kissing me. I remember quite clearly saying, 'No, I don't want to do this, I don't think this is a good idea because we're just friends,' [but] he just didn't stop."

"I was repeating myself [saying], 'No, I don't want to do this' ... I couldn't tell you how many times I repeated it because I just kept saying it and it wasn't working and I did not know what to do. I was petrified."

Now Jannika is one of three incredibly brave young women who are shedding their anonymity and speaking out as part of a major Sunday Night investigation into the shameful scourge of sexual assault at Australian Universities.

"All of these stories paint the same picture - that some of our most reputable universities have become hunting grounds for young predators" says Sunday Night reporter PJ Madam.

"It's worse than what I thought it would be, worse than what any university spin could want you to believe. It's a dirty little secret," says Madam, adding that various institutions tried to kill Channel 7's investigation.

"On a number of fronts we were discouraged from doing this story - which only hardened our resolve to do it.

"Certain universities, certain institutions were worried about us embarrassing [them] and unearthing the true extent of the inaction by some of our finest educational establishments, and the fact that the majority of the perpetrators walk away scott-free.

"The thing we have to remember is that in the real world these things would be prosecuted, but at university, these men are safe as houses. In fact they are rewarded by being allowed to graduate and given a great start to life."

Jannika's story is one of those stories. Having dropped out of her degree following her rape, Jannika now lives with the knowledge that each birthday also marks the anniversary of her assault. "I don't want it to be the defining thing about my birthday. I have to rewrite what a day means, because I don't want the one event to define a lifetime of birthdays". Meanwhile the man she alleges raped her continued on with his studies. He graduated earlier this year.

"When the photo of him in a graduation gown came up on my newsfeed via a mutual friend's photo, I was absolutely livid. It seems totally unfair that he gets to do something that I couldn't really do because of what happened. He gets to graduate and float through university, and float through life totally unhindered by everything that happened."

"Somewhere there are a set of proud parents who are celebrating, pleased as punch that their son has graduated, with probably no idea what he has done," says Madam.

"It's a huge double-betrayal [for the victim] first by the perpetrator and then by the university that is supposed to protect them. And it's a betrayal that can stay with them for life," she says.

PJ Madam, right, spoke to three victims of sexual assault on campus for her Sunday Night investigation. Photo / Channel 7
PJ Madam, right, spoke to three victims of sexual assault on campus for her Sunday Night investigation. Photo / Channel 7

And the evidence here is not just anecdotal.

As part of Channel 7's report on the issue, Sunday Night also conducted the largest ever Freedom of Information (FOI) investigation into rates of rape and sexual misconduct at universities.

The FOI investigation - which cost several thousand dollars - targeted all 39 Australian universities. It revealed that hundreds of sexual misconduct complaints have been made to universities and that very few result in any disciplinary action. Allegations include:

• Multiple staff from multiple universities sexually assaulting and harassing students.

• A male student breaking into college residences and raping female students in their beds.

• Female students being secretly photographed or filmed while using showers and toilets - including by staff.

• An attempted gang-rape of a female student by three male assailants on a University campus in 2015.

• An allegation that a college student accused of repeat sexual offences was given a Master key to all student bedrooms within a coeducational residential college.

• Staff members misusing university assets to solicit sexual favours from female students. In one case internal documents reveal that a staff member was found to have provided rent-free accommodation in university lodgings to a female student who then provided him with a sexual rub-down using massage oils he had purchased for that purpose.

• Degrading examples of sexual harassment including male students grabbing women's breasts, forcefully kissing them, spitting at them, yelling insults like "sl*t, sl*t, slut", "I bet you like c**k", "b****" and "scum-c**t".

• Female students reporting stalking and other invasions of privacy such as witnessing a man crawling under tables in a library to look up women's skirts.

• Clear breaches of university policy, where police were not notified of sexual offences as required.

• Victims being advised that any discussion of their own sexual assaults or abuse with others "could be considered a disciplinary matter" due to "confidentiality" concerns.

• An overwhelming number of sexual misconduct cases against both staff and students that resulted in "no action taken".

• Highly lenient punishments for male students who admitted to sexual misconduct - such as being asked to pay a $55 fine (apparently less than the cost of parking ticked); being asked to write apology letters; or in one case a student was required to perform a mere eight hours of community service after admitting to multiple sexual offences including sticking a hand down the front of a female's underpants and refusing to stop when asked.

Alison Sandy, who conducted the FOI on behalf of Channel 7, says the results are "disturbing", and reveal "that [sexual] assaults on university students - and to a lesser extent staff - are rife in this country".

Ms Sandy - who has conducted more than 600 FOIs this year alone - says that what makes this FOI investigation so significant is the sheer scope and depth of it.

"I know of no bigger FOI investigation [of this nature]. In my 20 years undertaking FOIs I've never undertaken anything of this magnitude and am unaware of any other FOI like this being undertaken."

Sharna Bremner from End Rape On Campus Australia ( agrees, adding that the results are even more concerning when one considers that "the overwhelming majority of sexual assault survivors are unlikely to have reported to the university meaning that the figures are just the tip of the iceberg".

"We've known for decades that there is a sexual assault problem on campuses across Australia - and that staff are sometimes the ones responsible. We've also known that universities often have a vested financial interest in concealing those figures, which is why they virtually never publicly release them of their own accord. They have to be forced via an FOI request into providing them."

Other countries, such as the USA, have federal instruments which compel all universities to publicly disclose their crime rates, but there is no equivalent "Clery Act" in Australia.

"There is little transparency here, because no university wants to be known as the rape university," says Bremner, adding that there may be enough firepower within the documents to substantiate calls for a Senate Inquiry into sexual assault on campus.

"Students have a right to be safe at university. A Senate inquiry may be the next most logical step. We need a federal instrument which mandates that universities must be transparent about these figures. It's the only way it will change."

As for Jannika, she is grateful for the opportunity to speak out and confront the issue.

Jannika spoke out because she wants change. Photo / Channel 7
Jannika spoke out because she wants change. Photo / Channel 7

"The main reason why I wanted to speak out is because I think everyone should be able to achieve an education in a safe environment, and that is partly the responsibility of your university. Part of this was about reclaiming my story but it is also about pushing for change.

"I think about what I've gone through and what I go through and I would just hate to see anyone else go through the same thing. If doing this makes a huge difference or even if it makes the smallest of differences, I'm happy because sexual assault on campus should not happen."


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