For immediate release
Call for Australian Government to investigate University of Queensland’s mishandling of sex abuse claims
24 July 2018
Mrs Sylvia Blayse has today spoken of her outrage that University of Queensland (UQ) did not report former lecturer, Dr Robert Boughen OBE, to external authorities for grooming and sexually assaulting her in 1969. She speaks after a 21-year battle to have UQ acknowledge the gravity of her complaint about grooming, sexual abuse, and psychological harm by Boughen.
On 4 July 2018, UQ concluded an internal investigation which showed it failed, in contravention of its own policies and procedures, to report Boughen between 1996 and 2004 when Mrs Blayse made several formal complaints to UQ. Boughen was a staff member during this period.
Mrs Blayse, formerly Sylvia Tunley, says she was first targeted by Boughen when she was 17 and a beginning student in the Faculty of Music. Boughen, then 39, was her organ tutor. She told the then Dean of the Faculty of Music, Professor Noel Nickson, about what was happening to her in 1971, but was not believed.
Mrs Blayse provided a detailed statement about her abuse (1.) to UQ in 1997 shortly after approaching UQ in 1996, when Boughen was still a UQ employee. UQ did nothing (2.). In 2003, she again complained (3.) to UQ, but it again did nothing (4.). In 2003, Boughen retired as a UQ staff member. When Mrs Blayse complained again (5.) in 2004, UQ said it had “nothing to add”(6.) to its previous rejections of her complaints.
Mrs Blayse says detailing her abuse was incredibly difficult: “It was painful and humiliating to relive what he did to me. But I knew that it was something I had to do. The last thing I anticipated was that I would be ignored,” she says, “Not just once, but three times.”
Mrs Blayse says the factor that precipitated her decision to do something about her abuser was during her study for a Postgraduate Diploma in Education in 1991. Boughen, a course lecturer, intimated to her he was having sexual fantasies about her then 15-year-old daughter.
In mid-2017, after continued appeals by Mrs Blayse, UQ finally agreed to investigate its handling of her complaints. It informed (7.) her of the outcome of its investigation this month.
UQ admits that in 1996, it was “obligated to report any suspected official misconduct to the then Criminal Justice Commission.” It failed to do so. It also admits that in 2003 and 2004, when Mrs Blayse made two more complaints, allegations in “a very serious case” could be reported to “external authorities.” It failed to do so.
Mrs Blayse is appalled that for nearly a decade her abuse was not reported when it should have been, particularly as Boughen was still on staff during the period. She believes the public has a right to know why UQ failed to follow its own policies and procedures about reporting allegations of sexual assaults on campus. “Was there something special about my abuser, or was I just one of many women routinely failed by UQ during this period,” she says.
Mrs Blayse is stunned that in March 2018, while the investigation was underway, UQ invited Boughen to perform on campus, advertising him as a “living legend.”(8.) “I would have thought that prioritising the safety of the current generation of young students at UQ would at least require UQ to keep Boughen off campus for the duration of the investigation,” she says. “UQ has admitted that Boughen had a sexual relationship with me, and that there was a substantial power imbalance between us. What message does this send about UQ’s attitude to protecting young people on campus from predators?”
Mrs Blayse has asked (9.) the Federal Minister for Education and Training, Senator the Hon Simon Birmingham, to open an urgent investigation into UQ’s handling of allegations of sexual abuse of students by staff.