New Zealand: Sexual violence, racism and exploitation, the sad state of student housing

Oceania/ New Zealand/ 07.07.2020/ Source:

Sexual violence, racism and exploitation are all prevalent in the halls of residence at Victoria University, according to the university’s student association.

Victoria University of Wellington Students’ Association (VUWSA) has released its submission to the inquiry into student accommodation with students detailing horror stories they have faced while living in halls of residence.

It is part of a national discussion on New Zealand’s under-regulated student accommodation sector.

One student living at Stafford House in 2019, said their bond was withheld because a flatmate left soap and a few food packets in the flat.

The students had a flat inspection before leaving, but one person was allowed to stay on an extra week, and left the items behind.

“As a result of this, the staff decided this meant our rooms were not spotless and thus they refused to give my sister and I our bonds back.”.

They emailed Stafford House in February this year but it was not until June they were told they would receive their bonds back, and as of June 29 were still waiting for their money.

Stafford House is managed by accommodation provider UniLodge, on behalf of more than 80 apartment owners.

Another student told of being sexually assaulted while living in a hall of residence.

“Myself and other girls were sexually assaulted in the hall and … after over three months of going through Vic Uni complaint process, I lost.

“He moved out on his own accord, but he has faced no repercussions.”

VUWSA’s submission claimed there was a lack of clarity for students when disclosing experiences of sexual violence, and limited support for victims, which fell to friends or residential assistants (RAs), who were typically older students.

One RA recalled having to deal with the brunt of sexual assault complaints along with two female colleagues, as the senior management team were all men.

The submission also claims staff in student accommodation struggled to handle issues of racism and other forms of discrimination.

Victoria University vice-chancellor Grant Guilford speaks at the May 5 Epidemic Response Committee meeting.

One student recalled being told to apologise when calling out other students for making fun of their culture.

VUWSA was calling for legislation to mandate a standard of care in student accommodation.

However, a University spokeswoman said there were inaccuracies and misinformation in VUWSA’s submission which was «very disappointing”.

The inaccuracies included things such as how the university educated students about consent, bystander intervention and their options when disclosing sexual harmful behaviour, she said.

The university provided “extensive” training to hall staff and RAs on these problems, and how to recognise and respond to students in distress.

The spokeswoman also said there were inaccuracies over the communication of information to students in halls of residence, the level of pastoral care given to those students, the role of RAs and the support provided to them and the University’s response to requests for information from VUWSA and its response to Covid-19.

“Universities New Zealand has contributed a submission to the inquiry into student accommodation, on behalf of all New Zealand universities.”

What is the student accommodation inquiry

The inquiry into student accommodation was called after the Covid-19 lockdown exposed the sector as being under-regulated and unfit for purpose.

It follows Interim Pastoral Care Code for domestic students, which Parliament passed in 2019 after the death of University of Canterbury student Mason Pendrous.

The Residential Tenancies Act does not apply to student accommodation, meaning students have fewer consumer protections than other renters.

The inquiry is being heard by the Education and Workforce Select Committee.

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