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The Untimely Fashion of AUT’s Sex and Respect Week and The Independent Review

By Jack Pirie

Amongst all of the recent disturbances with COVID-19, going back into alert level 3 and level 2.5, it’s easy to forget that AUT is still undergoing an ‘Independent Review’ that has a focus on sexual harassment and bullying. Sexual harassment at AUT has been called an “open secret” in recent days. This review is an attempt to uncover this secret. After conversations with AUT there a few things you need to know about this review going forward and how it will affect you. The important thing to remember in these times is that we cannot afford to let people go unaccounted for their actions, no matter the circumstances.

In a conversation with Debate, AUT was able to shed some light on how the review is progressing. Here are some of the answers AUT have given us in regards to the review:

Q: I was hoping to enquire about the progress of the independent review and how that has been tracking along during lockdown and alert level 2.5?

A: The Review has continued through Alert levels 3 and 2.5 and we understand the process is on track. Independent Reviewer, QC Kate Davenport and her team will receive contributions and meet with people until 25 September.

Q: Can you give me a gauge of how many people, both staff and students that have been involved with the review?

A: This is an external review and we are not monitoring numbers who are participating and nor has there been any reporting. Our role to date has been to ensure information on how to access the Reviewer is shared, address questions if they arise, and provide support and information as required by the Reviewer.

Q: How will the result of the independent review be treated and how will the information appear to the public and more importantly the students?

A: Key findings and recommendations will be made public, but information collected as part of the review will be confidential. More information about the process is outlined in the Terms of Reference.

As we await the result of this independent review, there are a few things we need to question. Although there have been progressive steps made from the university with events such as ‘Sex and Respect’ week, we cannot help but question whether this was done in the most mindful manner. ‘Sex and Respect’ week highlighted a very important and vital opportunity for AUT to showcase its stance towards healthy boundaries and sexual wellbeing. However, ‘Sex and Respect’ week was held just weeks after Max Abbott’s sexual harassment claims were made public in New Zealand media. AUT did not make any standalone statements towards their zero tolerance sexual harassment policy before proceeding with ‘Sex and Respect’ week.

Many students have told Debate that it feels as if the university uses things such as ‘Sex and Respect’ week as a sort of scapegoat in order to appear as if the university is really trying to better. We do however, commend AUT for its work in making sexual health screenings, HPV vaccines and IUD consultations so readily accessible at the AUT Student Medical Centre. On multiple occasions Debate has called for the need for a standalone statement in light of recent events, as of yet, none has been made. Systematic change begins first with acknowledgement. This is simply not good enough.

When it comes to the results of the independent review it is interesting to note that “Key recommendations will be made public, but information collected as part of the review will be confidential.” This feels like a grey area in terms of actual results and information. Reliable sources have informed Debate that close to 400 staff (past and present) have been involved with this review. Since the launch of the review the university has confirmed that no AUT staff members have been stood down for unethical teaching or for any other reasons. Reliable sources have informed Debate that in addition to the widely publicised allegations, and subsequent resignations of Max Abbott and Nigel Hemmington, there are two more potential cases still under investigation.


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