Statement on historical harmful behaviour
Outcome of the restorative process
Since April 2021, Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington has engaged in a restorative process around the historical allegations of sexually harmful behaviours by former staff member, Jack Body. This process, co-designed with the harmed parties, has involved working with the impacted former students to understand and acknowledge harm, and collaboratively decide on how to move forward. The process was facilitated by Aspen Restorative Consulting and included senior University staff.
Following the conclusion of this part of the process, the University has released a statement outlining the learnings and outcomes of the restorative process. The statement can be read below. The statement was difficult to write and will be difficult for some to read.
A reminder of the support and reporting pathways available for our community:
- If you would like to receive support or access information about reporting sexually harmful behaviours, the Student Interest team is the central point for former and current students to receive information about options from trained specialist professionals. You can also report, disclose and anonymously report sexually harmful behaviours through the online reporting portal. You can find further information on the University’s sexual harassment response policy and associated procedures here, and information on the support services available here.
- If you would like to access independent support, you can connect with the VUWSA student advocate here.
- Students can access free and confidential counselling through Mauri Ora. Please note that Mauri Ora have duty counsellors available each afternoon from 1pm to 4pm and students can attend without an appointment and be seen on the same day.
- Safe To Talk (0800 044 334) is a free and confidential service staffed by trained professionals that can be contacted anytime by those impacted by sexually harmful behaviour.
Statement from Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington
In October 2020, Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington became aware via the press of historical allegations of sexual harm to students by former staff member Jack Body. We were shocked and saddened to hear the allegations and reported our preliminary understanding that there had been ‘no direct allegations’ against him. We have since learned that concerns about sexually harmful behaviour were raised by staff and students at the time, and that our initial media statement inadvertently caused further harm. We apologise for this, as those who spoke out felt like their experiences were being denied, heightening their sense of being undermined by the University.
We have a responsibility as a university to provide a safe and supportive environment; and need to address historical harm in our community. We have thus engaged in a restorative process to learn about the nature and context of the sexually harmful behaviour and to listen to how former students and staff were impacted. This process was co-designed by those who contacted us to share their experiences with Jack Body.
Central to this process have been meetings with a group of seven former students and one former staff member where we heard their experiences of harm over a time period ranging from the early 1980s to 2000s. An additional three former staff attended to witness these meetings. We are aware that there are other former students who have participated in the restorative process who chose not to meet with the University directly. We would like to acknowledge the courage shown by those harmed in sharing their experiences and are deeply grateful to them for allowing us to understand what occurred. Their verbal reports and written statements were detailed, highly impactful, and demonstrated significant harm had occurred to each of them.
We learned of students’ experiences of sexual abuse by Jack Body, and heard accounts of predatory and grooming behaviours, aggression, coercion, and abuse of power imbalances. We also heard Jack Body used alcohol, flattery and implied career advantages to obtain consent. We heard the experiences of individual students over three decades were marked by consistent patterns of isolation, fear of speaking out, and fear of professional victimisation. We learned that the incidents have had long-term negative effects on the students' sense of safety, trust in the institution, personal wellbeing, and capacity to form and maintain relationships. The harm affected their ability to engage in their studies and ultimately their careers. Further, the harm detrimentally affected their professional relationships with the wider music community, whānau, and friends.
As well as talking with the former students and staff, we reviewed our historical policies and processes to better understand how this significantly harmful behaviour could have occurred over such a substantial period. Our archival records show the University has taken sexual harassment seriously since at least the mid-1980s. However, we found our historical processes were not adequate to provide safe reporting or safe processes to resolve complaints. This included there being no central record keeping of formal complaints, reliance on staff and student volunteers as the first point of contact for individuals who had experienced sexually harmful behaviour, inadequate training for volunteers, and unclear reporting pathways. There was a small group of trained mediators who sought to resolve complaints, with an over-reliance on staff-student sessions in which there would have been an imbalance of power. Neither the first points of contact nor the mediators received the same kind of training as would be expected today. We have heard that the processes were not conducted in a safe or sufficiently skilled way for either people raising concerns or those receiving concerns. Students and a former staff member told us they felt they could not be heard fairly and independently; and feared reprisal from Jack Body and the wider community, preventing them from taking their concerns further.
We recognise that there were not appropriate processes and support across the University to raise and address these sorts of issues at the time, and that these barriers were felt by the former students to have been a particular issue in the New Zealand School of Music. During the restorative process the harmed parties told us how their experience of the school culture at that time and of the wider University community presented collective barriers to raising and addressing sensitive issues, and enabled Jack Body’s behaviour to continue. This included a sense of betrayal of trust between student and teacher, facilitated by differences in power and a ‘cult of personality’ around Jack Body. It also included a permissiveness that allowed what we would see today as different kinds of bullying to be unchecked in an environment where student welfare featured less prominently. The University’s historic and systemic failures and the cultural context inhibited the ability to recognise and address Jack Body’s behaviour.
We wholeheartedly acknowledge the University’s responsibility for the harm and that this took place over a substantial period of time, embedded in historical policy, cultural and institutional failures. We believe the stories we have heard. We deeply apologise to our former students and staff for the harm caused during their time at the University, and for its longstanding impact on their lives. Our community has a right to work and study in an environment of safety and respect; we did not provide a safe environment and ultimately failed to protect our students.We recognise the damage the harm has caused our former students, both in terms of their recognition by the University and in limiting their ability to share career experiences with current University students and staff in a typical alumni context.
For several years now, the University has made a broader commitment to addressing all types of unacceptable behaviour and engaging in a range of preventative and proactive measures, such as ongoing training, across our University community. The University’s current processes are significantly different from those in place historically and we are committed to learning from this so further harm is not caused to current and future students. The University’s Sexual Harassment and Response Policy provides guidance on inappropriate behaviour, record keeping and reporting, and pathways for making formal disclosures and complaints about sexually harmful behaviour within the University. Members of the University’s Student Interest and Conflict Resolution team have specialist training on receiving and responding to reports of sexually harmful behaviour, and providing access to specialist support, which takes a survivor-led and trauma-informed approach. This policy and associated procedures are currently being reviewed following their introduction in 2020. Our understanding from this restorative process will inform how we move forward.
We would like to acknowledge any distress caused to our current and former staff and student community through this process; and thank those who participated in the restorative process. NZSM staff have welcomed the opportunity to participate in training and education around safe and inclusive environments, and we thank them for their willingness to support a safe and respectful community. This training will continue to be made available University-wide by allocating additional resources to prevention and education of sexually harmful and other unacceptable behaviour. The harmed parties met with the NZSM Leadership Strategy Group to share reflections and learnings from the restorative process, and to discuss how these might best inform ongoing sexual harm prevention work. There was also positive and constructive discussion of how the harmed parties might reconnect with the School and University.
Several reparative actions have come about from the restorative process to repair harm, support reintegration, and ensure the learnings from this process are embedded in the University moving forwards. We are committed to engaging with our current staff and student community to consider the complexity of Jack Body’s musical legacy. We acknowledge that students and staff will make their own informed decisions as to how they wish to relate to his music. We appreciate our former students’ concerns that their stories and our learnings be constructively shared with our music community. Again, we recognise and deeply regret the harm caused to former students and staff.
We hope that this statement and more importantly, the actions associated with it, can provide some reassurance that we have listened to those harmed and are committed to continuing to work together to prevent future harm from occurring within the NZSM, the University, and the wider New Zealand arts communities. We are very grateful for the time and energy that the harmed parties put into the restorative process, and for providing valuable input into this public statement. We realise these words will never fully capture or heal what occurred.
Should you wish to access information about University reporting pathways or holistic support, please contact the Student Interest and Conflict Resolution team to connect with a trained specialist (Student.Interest@vuw.ac.nz). You can also contact Safe To Talk to access external specialist support anytime by calling 0800 044 334.
Professor Grant Guilford, Vice-Chancellor, Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington
Professor Jennifer Windsor, Pro Vice-Chancellor, Humanities and Social Sciences, Education
Emma Mossman, Manager, Student Interest and Conflict Resolution