Douglas Steele’s Tinder profile makes him look like a family man.WARNING: Graphic contentHE PROMOTES himself on Tinder as a “single dad” family man who enjoys “coffee”, “feminism” and “strategic ideas to fix societal problems”.Douglas Steele is also a convicted rapist.On Monday, the James Cook University employee — aged 33 — was sentenced in Townsville District Court to prison, after he pleaded guilty to digitally raping a barely conscious 20-year-old university student in September 2015.According to documents tendered to the court by the prosecution, Steele offered multiple stories and 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.”
-“The more I think about it, my finger just slipped in while I was moving her into the recovery position.”
On the night of the assault in 2015, Steele, who has also had a career in the navy, was drinking with the victim, an indigenous woman, and her former boyfriend while watching a football game, before the young woman passed out in a bedroom.
Steele, who worked in the College of Healthcare Sciences at James Cook University (JCU), entered the room under the pretence of caring for the girl.
But once alone with his victim, he digitally raped the woman as she lay semiconscious and naked. The victim, who cannot be named for legal reasons, raised the alarm, by alerting her former boyfriend. Police were contacted and 10 days later on October 6, 2015, Steele was charged with rape.
According to a witness statement tendered to court, Steele later told his ex-partner, whom he was trying to reconcile with, that “none of this would have happened” if she had agreed “to watch the Cowboys game [with them] that night”.
Even more staggering than this attempt to shift blame and responsibility, is the reaction of James Cook University, where both the perpetrator and the victim attended.
After rape charges were laid in October 2015, Steele was not only permitted to continue working at the university, he was promoted and made academic adviser to indigenous students in the university’s Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Centre.
Indeed even after Steele pleaded guilty to the rape in September last year, JCU continued to employ him as an academic adviser in the indigenous centre, while he awaited his sentencing. (Steele’s contact profile was still listed on JCU’s website during sentencing on Monday, however this has now been removed and Steele has been permitted to resign.)
Sharna Bremner from End Rape On Campus Australia says that this is one of the most egregious examples of institutional negligence she has encountered.
“[The perpetrator] was allowed to stay on campus in a position of authority and in contact with a student population that is known to be more vulnerable to sexual assault. Even after he pleaded guilty to raping an indigenous student he was allowed to stay on and advise indigenous students,” she said.
“That’s an extreme level of institutional betrayal, not to mention a complete dereliction of duty of care on behalf of the university.
“University staff members are in a position of trust and authority and any abuse of that trust is inexcusable.”
Even more staggering, at sentencing on Monday, it was revealed that a fellow university staff member from the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Centre supplied Steele with a glowing character reference. Steele was handed a two-year prison sentence to be suspended after only four months, meaning he will now serve just 120 days behind bars for the rape.
The character reference described Steele’s actions as being “out of character”.
Ms Bremner says that it is “disturbing” that a senior staff member at the university judged it appropriate to supply a character reference.
“In Queensland, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders are victims of sexual assault at four times the rate of non-indigenous persons. Someone who is [on campus] should be working to tackle sexual assault, not providing character references to rapists,” she said.
“What message does that send other victims in the student body? It sends the message that survivors are nowhere near as important as staff members. It sends the message that other victims in the university community shouldn’t bother reporting because the university [may] side with the perpetrator.”
A spokesman for the university confirmed to news.com.au that “no member of JCU staff was authorised to make representations of any kind to the court on behalf of the university”.
The spokesman also distanced the university from the rape, stating that “the charges in this case did not relate to the defendant’s role at JCU, or any events on campus”.
The university has denied a dereliction of duty of care stating that “when the university became aware of this matter, steps were taken to ensure that the young woman felt safe on campus”.
However it is not clear what those steps were, and Ms Bremner has questioned the effectiveness of those steps, given that the victim subsequently dropped out of her studies.
JCU has also indicated that while the university knew of the rape, senior management were not aware of the “guilty verdict” until Tuesday this week.
The university has not answered further questions from news.com.au regarding why they didn’t know that Steele had entered a guilty plea in September last year, or whether its policies required staff members to disclose sexual assault charges and convictions.
The university has also not responded to questions relating to working with children checks, however news.com.au understands that staff members at JCU work with people under the age of 18.
However the university has confirmed that as is “common with any significant incident that has bearing on the university, and in particular the safety and welfare of students, there will be a thorough review of the procedures and policies that were followed on this occasion”.
IS THIS REALLY ZERO TOLERANCE?
According to its website, “James Cook University seeks to ensure a safe and secure environment for all staff, students and visitors” and individuals who “fail to comply with the code [of conduct] may [face] disciplinary action, and in serious cases may lead to termination of employment and/or criminal prosecution”.
JCU has also partnered on a Universities Australia campaign “Respect. Now. Always”, which preaches zero-tolerance for sexual violence at university campuses across the country.
Yet a recent FOI investigation conducted by Channel 7’s Sunday Night program found that in the past five years, nine cases of sexual assault and harassment had been reported to JCU — including an attempted gang rape by three males — but not one of these incidents had resulted in any serious consequences, such as suspensions or expulsions.
“James Cook University has a long history of offering statements saying they ‘take this matter very seriously’, however, so far, there doesn’t seem to have been any concrete steps taken to address the problem,” Ms Bremner said.
In recent years, JCU has also featured in several highly concerning media stories relating to a spate of campus sexual assaults. In 2015 an 18-year-old woman was attacked in broad daylight near the campus gym.
In 2013, a 22-year-old student received death threats from men who said they would find, rape and kill her after she helped organise a rally against sexual violence. A handwritten note was left on the windshield of her car. It read: “let’s unite and reclaim the night, because you won’t make the next one”.
Another message left on the Facebook page for the rally she was organising said: “You wouldn’t know what rape was if I came to uni and f**king strangled you bitches … I rape who I want when I want. I know who all you sluts are and not one of you is fit for rape. Don’t walk around uni on your own sluts, or we will get you. Coming for you all … Start by slitting your throat. Tell me I can’t rape.”
Similarly April in 2006, a 23-year-old woman was dragged from her bike on University Drive and sexually assaulted. Later that year, a woman was grabbed and assaulted while getting into her car at the library carpark.
Despite these incidents, in the past five years no suspensions or expulsions have been handed out in relation to sexual assault or harassment.
A spokesman for the university maintains that regardless, JCU is “committed to providing a safe study environment for all students, within a culture of safety and respect”.
If you or someone you know has been impacted by sexual assault support is available by calling 1800 RESPECT and asking to speak to a trauma counsellor.
FULL STATEMENT FROM JAMES COOK UNIVERSITY:
JCU is committed to providing a safe study environment for all students, within a culture of safety and respect.
The University does not comment on matters relating to individual students or staff members. These limited comments are provided to allay understandable concern.
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.
Although the charges in this case did not relate to the defendant’s role at JCU, or any events on campus, the University reiterates its position that sexual assault is never acceptable.
No member of JCU staff was authorised to make representations of any kind to the Court on behalf of the University.
Senior Management of the University were made aware of the Court’s finding of guilty in respect of the charge of rape on Tuesday 17 January 2017.
In common with any significant incident that has bearing on the University, and in particular the safety and welfare of students, there will be a thorough review of the procedures and policies that were followed on this occasion.
Full credit to News.com.au