John XXIII's Insurance Appeals SASH Decision

CW: This article contains explicit mention of sexual assault, sexual harassment and institutional betrayal.

Last year, a former ANU student successfully sued John XXIII (John’s) College after she was sexually assaulted during a ‘pub golf’ night. In its ruling, the ACT Supreme Court found that John XXIII College (John’s) had failed in its duty of care to the student. Consequently, she was awarded $420,200 in damages, as well as the amount she paid in legal fees. On Monday, the insurance company for the College (Catholic Care Insurance) announced that it was appealing the decision. 

The incident, which occurred in 2015, took place during a yearly ritual at John’s. As part of the ‘pub golf’ night, participants must drink a prescribed amount of alcohol at each hole to make par. After the conclusion of the activity, a staff member at John’s instructed the victim and others to leave the College due to their state of intoxication. Later in the evening, the victim was raped in Canberra Civic by another student. Although Justice Elkaim did not hold John’s responsible for ‘allowing the pub golf to proceed’, he did find that the College ‘breached its duty of care in directing students to leave its premises’. Moreover, the Court found that the way in which the College dealt with the complaint made by the victim after the assault was ‘entirely inappropriate.’ Ultimately, Justice Elkaim stated that John’s was responsible for ‘almost five years of distress combined with an abandonment [of hope]’ after the incident. For this reason, he awarded the damages to the victim.

Now, Catholic Care Insurance is appealing the decision of the Court, arguing that the student had willingly partaken in the ‘pub golf’ event. Further, it will challenge the fact that the woman had suffered mental harm worthy of the damages awarded. According to the ABC, counsel for the College stated that ‘there is simply no evidence the plaintiff has suffered economic loss because of mental harm from this event’

In response to the appeal, John’s has told its residents that the ‘most important thing’ is that students know that John’s ‘stands with survivors of sexual assault and harassment’. In an email sent to residents, Head of College Jas Lincoln stated that “this is not a College led initiative, rather CCI as a statement around where responsibility lies for an institution in relation to actions undertaken off site”.

The appeal will be heard later this week.

If you or anyone you know is affected by the content of this piece, please contact one of the support services below:

Canberra Rape Crisis Centre, Crisis Line

(02) 6247 2525

ANU Counselling

(02) 6125 2442

1800 RESPECT

1800 737 732

ANU Women’s Department

sa.womens@anu.edu.au

ANU Queer* Department

sa.queer@anu.edu.au

ANU Respectful Relationships Unit

respect@anu.edu.au