Content warning: This post contains an account of sexual assault which may be triggering for some readers.
An academic adviser at James Cook University’s Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Centre in Queensland has been convicted of raping an indigenous student.
Douglas Steele, 33, was sentenced to a two-year suspended jail term on Monday, after pleading guilty to digitally raping a 20-year-old student, the Townsville Bulletin reports.
The Bulletin reported Steele was not employed by the university at the time of the offence, which took place on September 27, 2015, but according to news.com.au, he was employed in the University’s College of Healthcare Sciences, and after the offence, was subsequently promoted to the position as academic adviser to indigenous students.
James Cook University told Mamamia that while some members of staff were aware of the case, it was not reported higher up the chain of management.
“Disturbingly, Senior Management of the University was not made aware that Mr Steele had later pleaded guilty to the charge of sexual assault, despite it now having become apparent that some university employees had been made aware of this development,” a spokesperson said in a statement.
“Senior Management was only made aware of the Court’s finding of guilty in respect of the charge of rape on Tuesday 17 January 2017.”
Townsville District Court was told that Steele knew his victim through university and on the night of the rape, she and a male friend has been drinking and watching TV at his house.
When the young woman passed out, her male friend texted Steele for help, who then called an ambulance, the court heard.
While the friend waited outside, Steele then digitally raped the student who was semi-conscious and later reported the incident.
According to court documents obtained by news.com.au, Steele offered an array of excuses for his crimes:
“I only put one finger in, I didn’t think she would know because she was so drunk.”
“I only put my finger in and she was already wet.”
And, finally: “The more I think about it, my finger just slipped in while I was moving her into the recovery position.”
In September last year, Steele plead guilty to the charges, but remained employed by JCU at least up until sentencing on Monday.
One of his colleagues also provided a character reference to the court describing his conduct as “out of character”.
According to the victim impact statement presented in court, the student gave up her university studies after the assault and has approached indigenous support services for help.
A spokesperson for JCU told Mamamia that the university was “deeply concerned for the impact on the victim”.
They also reiterated their strong stance that “sexual assault is never acceptable”:
“This is a matter of grave concern for the University and an investigation is underway to determine why staff who may have been informed of Mr Steele’s guilty plea did not inform Senior Management
“Had senior management been aware that Mr Steele had pleaded guilty, he would have been immediately dismissed by the University.
“When the University became aware of this matter, steps were taken immediately to ensure the student felt safe on campus. Her welfare and privacy have been, and continue to be, our primary concerns.
“JCU continues to ask media to respect the student’s privacy.
“Although the charge brought against Mr Steele did not arise from his position at JCU or any events which occurred on campus, JCU strongly condemns sexual assault under any circumstances.”
When sentenced, Steele was handed a two-year prison sentence to be suspended after only four months. This means he will now serve just 120 days behind bars.
JCU has promised a thorough review of the procedures and policies that were followed on this occasion.
Their full statement is now available online.
Please note if this post or any of the comments bring up any issues for you, or if you need to speak to someone please call 1800-RESPECT or the NSW Rape Crisis Centre on 1800 424 017. It does not matter where about you live in Australia, they will take your call and, if need be, refer you to a service closer to home.