A north Queensland university is investigating how a staff member not only held onto his job after raping a student, but was promoted.
Douglas David Steele was jailed for two years, suspended after four months, after pleading guilty to the digital rape of the woman in her Townsville home in 2015.
Steele, 33, pleaded guilty in September last year, but stayed on for three months at James Cook University (JCU).
Furthermore, he was promoted during that time from project officer to an academic adviser in the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Centre.
The news has sparked outrage from the public, with hundreds of people posting on the university’s Facebook page.
JCU has said the issue was a “matter of grave concern” and had they been aware Steele would have been immediately dismissed.
He has since resigned.
Acting vice chancellor professor Chris Cocklin understands the community’s anger and has apologised for how the issue was handled.
He said those who knew of the guilty plea did not report the information to the appropriate staff.
“There has been a failure of our internal processes,” he said.
Professor Cocklin said JCU was now conducting an investigation into its policies and procedures in handling sexual assault.
He said it would be completed “as quickly as possible” and the findings would be made public, as far as what is permitted for privacy reasons.
JCU criticised for ‘slow’ response
The JCU Student Association met last week with senior management, who they criticised for moving too slow. Douglas David Steele’s Tinder profile says he enjoys “intellectual conversations” and feminism.
“The university should have picked this up sooner,” the association’s president Edward Harriage said. “I think their response is slowly improving, but it’s not good enough.
“We want to see some policy change, basically whatever it takes to ensure this doesn’t happen again.
“The policy needs to be focused on the safety of students and ensuring JCU staff members hold the highest standards of ethics and responsibility.”
Mr Harriage believed the saga would be on the minds of new students at the upcoming orientation day. He said students should be able to feel safe, but that they would be more cautious.
“It’ll cast a bit of concern over the campus that really shouldn’t be there,” he said.
He said any student who needed support could approach the association for help.