Flat White

The dreadful toll of campus injustice

17 February 2022

2:00 PM

17 February 2022

2:00 PM

A few years ago, an engaging young overseas-trained doctor arrived in one of our biggest cities to do post-graduate research. He was a popular and confident student, soon appointed to leadership roles at the university college where he was staying and thrilled to be part of its student community.

A photo of him taken a year later shows his hair starting to fall out (alopecia) through stress after monstrous treatment from his university following an unfounded, malicious sexual assault allegation.

Two years later, a jury took 20 minutes to dismiss the case following a two-week trial. After the criminal trial the court took the unusual step of awarding costs against the Crown, with the judge stating a proper investigation would have revealed that the complainant was ‘very substantially lacking credit’ and the case should not have been commenced.

There was never any proper investigation.

As is true in the kangaroo courts operating at universities across Australia, this young man was treated abominably by this tertiary institution. After the complaint was made, he was given two hours to leave the college and was not allowed to discuss with anyone why he was being evicted. Relevant witnesses were never interviewed, he had no chance to present a proper response to the allegations. He was dumped far from his former college in an untidy, dirty room – alone and desperate. And he was publicly shamed with the accuser spreading unsubstantiated rumours about what had happened.

The coordinators of his post-grad program were told, before he was even charged, that he could not take part in clinical work or research because he was under investigation. His education plans were derailed, his life put on hold. He has spent the last few years working as a waiter, couch surfing with friends or living in a hostel. Having spent his savings, and with help from his family, he has defended his criminal case.

Since he contacted me in late 2020, we have been doing our best to support him, including using immigration lawyers to keep him in the country whilst pursuing action against the university.

Late last year our excellent campus justice team achieved a confidential settlement with the university. He is now studying and seeking medical registration to practice in Australia.

Meanwhile, universities across the country continue to believe the victim irrespective of the strengths of any defence which could be raised by the accused. The presumption of innocence as a cornerstone of our system of justice is ignored. In Australia each year dozens of accused young men are shafted by tertiary institutions to appease the feminist lynch mob.

What’s unusual about our young doctor’s story is he didn’t fall victim to an aggrieved young woman. He is openly gay and his accuser was male. But the ‘believe-the-victim’ rule was applied just the same, even though the accuser was a known trouble-maker, having attracted unfavourable attention for making aggressive comments to women in the college.

There’s a worrying parallel to the Melbourne story I wrote about here earlier this year in that our doctor, like Chris from Melbourne, had a supervisory role in the college requiring him to look after students. It says a lot about the vulnerability of men in this circumstance who are required to impose rules that easily create resentment amongst students, setting themselves up for vengeful allegations.

Our doctor was asked by a director of the college to speak to the accuser about a particular incident of being aggressive towards a female student and to urge him to seek counselling. He did that and the accuser reacted badly, accusing him of betraying their friendship. A few days later the accuser was all over the doctor, openly flirting with him in public and inviting himself to his room in front of witnesses. They’d just started consensual kissing when the accuser suddenly jumped up and left the room for no apparent reason. It seems likely this was all a set-up – a clumsy form of entrapment as payback for the doctor’s role in reprimanding him for his bad behaviour.

Our doctor then discovered the accuser was claiming he had been sexually assaulted by him. The doctor made a report to the student liaison officer, explaining it was a false accusation, listing witnesses who could confirm the proceeding events that evening. This evidence was not pursued.

Within a week, the doctor learned that an official sexual assault complaint had been made alleging digital anal penetration without consent had occurred during the encounter in his room. Ultimately the jury found our doctor not guilty of this charge, with a subsequent court finding the allegation couldn’t be substantiated due to the complainant’s lack of credibility and the blatantly sexually flirtatious behaviour by the complainant who had changed his complaint and presented police with many inconsistencies in his story; and that he had tried to suppress evidence and influence witnesses.

Vital evidence supporting the accused had been withheld by numerous officials at the university during their contact with the police and it required subpoenas and orders from the judge to force it to release this information during the trial.

Even after the jury dismissed the case and the court made its clear ruling, the university kept open the option of conducting their own misconduct investigation. It took around eight months for the institution to retreat from that path – more stress for our much-wronged doctor and more work for our lawyers.

Whilst we celebrate this settlement over a university, it is so frustrating that the legal grounds came down to trying to prove these officials had slipped up in minor areas of administrative law rather than addressing the use of these draconian regulations to adjudicate sexual assault.

There must be more we can do to tackle the broader issue of the right of our universities to usurp criminal law using their unfair, anti-male regulatory mechanisms.

In November 2019, Justice Ann Lyons made a judgment in a pivotal case involving a University of Queensland medical student who was accused of sexual assault by another student.

Wendy Mulcahy, the lawyer for the accused student, took the matter to the Queensland Supreme Court arguing that UQ did not have the jurisdiction to adjudicate such matters. Justice Lyons concluded universities are only entitled to make decisions in sexual assault cases that have been proved in criminal court. You can read the judgment here.

The University of Queensland then appealed that decision, and in October 2020 the Court of Appeal in Queensland overruled Lyon’s reasoning that it is not appropriate for universities to deal with such criminal matters. The appeal judges concluded that it’s fine for universities to investigate and make decisions about sexual assault and impose their own sanctions on these students, as I discussed here.

Whilst acknowledging procedural fairness was an issue in the UQ case, Justice McMurdo made this comment: ‘I am unable to accept that in no such case could a hearing of an allegation of this kind be conducted with procedural fairness to the student.’

The learned Justice acknowledged that the UQ procedures are grossly unfair to accused students – a situation which applies in universities across Australia. But since it is just possible that a university could do a great job usurping criminal justice, he concluded we should just let this issue slide by.

There must be other legal avenues to address this broader issue of the legality of universities making decisions about significant criminal matters using secretive committees with no public oversight, no proper investigations, no access to a lawyer nor normal legal protections for the accused while also employing the lowest possible standard of proof – the balance of probabilities.

Universities are simply unable to conduct investigations in a manner that provides the required basic fairness and proper attention to due process. As Justice Ann Lyons commented: ‘It would indeed be a startling result if a committee comprised of academics and students who are not required to have any legal training could decide allegations of a most serious kind without any of the protections of the criminal law.’

But that is what is happening and universities are getting away with it. We can’t just sit back and allow this system to keep destroying young men.

Read more of Bettina Arndt on Substack.

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