Knox College. Image: Asia Martusia/Critic te Arohi

Dunedin’s Knox College sexual assault scandal: what you need to know

The editor of Critic Te Arohi backgrounds the magazine’s major investigation into sexual harassment and troubling culture at Knox, one of the University of Otago’s oldest residential colleges.

Over the past month Critic Te Arohi, the University of Otago student magazine, has been investigating how Knox college deals with sexual assault and harassment, and how the college’s traditions and culture have led to an environment in which many residents did not feel safe.

Past students of Knox college have told us that they were raped, sexually assaulted, or sexually harassed during their stay at the college. Some of them have also told us that when they reported sexual harassment and assault to college leadership, they were ignored or dismissed.

In the story lead reporter Esme Hall and myself cover into the experiences of four students:

  • One 2016 resident experienced constant sexual harassment from a fellow resident. When she went to management about it, she said they brushed off her experience and there were no consequences for the resident. She had to continue living with the harasser and told us she didn’t feel safe anywhere in the college, even showering.
  • Another 2016 resident went to management with a group of other students to complain about an individual they described as a “serial sexual harasser”. Again, nothing was done.
  • A 2015 and 2016 resident described being raped after a Knox event. She talked about how she blamed herself for getting into the situation and didn’t feel she could come forward.
  • A 2017 resident told us that Knox has a culture of casual misogyny that facilitates sexual harassment and assault. She described her experiences of sexual harassment and what it was like to be trapped in that environment. “I just got used to being scared or uncomfortable all the time,” she said.

The college’s policy for dealing with sexual assault is at odds with the university’s. The college reportedly gives the victim a range of options that they can choose from, including having the perpetrator excluded from the college. A university spokesperson told Critic that “the University would never expect a person affected by sexual misconduct to make a determination on a penalty such as exclusion if misconduct was found to have occurred”.

In 2011 there were two independent reviews into Knox’s culture, which both “expressed serious concerns about student wellbeing and safety”. Most of the incidents people reported to us were in 2016 and 2017, a long time after the college was made aware it had a problem.

Dr Graham Redding, the current Master (essentially its leader), accepted a job at Knox in 2015. However, he sat on the Knox Board of Governors for some time prior to his appointment.

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A number of initiations and traditions take place at Knox, or have taken place in the recent past. Former residents have described some of these as disturbing and sexist.

  • Every year a selection of first year boys are chosen to be the “Animals” and given a special initiation, including being made to perform a drunken strip tease in front of the other residents. The Master of Knox says that the “Animals” initiations do not involve nudity, but Critic has video of them stripping in front of a crowd chanting “take it off”.
  • Knox gives out the “Knox Bike” and “Bike Lock” awards for the female and male students who have had the most sex. The Master confirmed this still happens.
  • Women couldn’t play billiards at Knox until 2015.
  • In past years a group of first year girls were chosen by second years for being promiscuous. The group has been called in recent years the ‘Prudes’, ‘Dusters’, ‘Crabs’ and ‘Thirsties’. Second years were encouraged to ‘pull’ from this group of girls. Critic can confirm this was still happening until at least 2016. The Master of Knox denies knowing about this, and says that he has the assurances of the current students that this no longer happens.

A number of people we spoke to while reporting this story were afraid they would get attacked if they come out publicly against Knox. Even some who said positive things to us about the college wanted anonymity so they wouldn’t be targeted by other residents. Critic observed the same thing when we reported on the culture at Selwyn College last year.

Since Critic published the article, we’ve had some pushback. Copies of the magazine were destroyed and vandalised and a group of Knox residents wore their Knox shirts to university ‘in solidarity’ with the college. However, since publishing we have also had more than 30 people come forward to us and want to share their stories which mirror the experiences discussed in the article. They have also brought up some serious claims, which we are currently investigating.

Read the original Critic Te Arohi investigation into Knox College here


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