May 3, 2019
Massive Issue 01 2019

Former Massey professor a convicted sex offender

Warning: Distressing content

Massey staff and students are in shock after former Associate Professor of Journalism Grant Hannis was convicted of indecently assaulting a rest home resident. 

Students needing support are encouraged to access university counselling services.

Hannis was originally charged with unlawful sexual connection, but the charge was reduced to indecent assault which he plead guilty to.

On January 25 he was sentenced to 8 months home detention, 100 hours’ community service, and ordered to pay $3000 in reparation to the victim.  

Dr Catherine Strong, senior lecturer in the School of Communication, Journalism and Marketing, was supervised by Hannis for 10 years. She said his crime was, “an absolute surprise, out of the blue”.

“What I felt was, and is, absolutely utter trauma. I was gutted, like a lot of other people. It’s horrifying.”

Strong said Hannis had never mentioned any mental health issues.

“There were no signs for it, but what are the signs for a gerontophile?

“People like that have this façade of respectability they wear in normal day-to-day life. 

“And we can’t try and profile, we can’t suspect every plump white man of being a sexual predator.”

It’s important to recognise that his actions don’t represent the university, she said.  

“Massey’s huge, and sometimes things go wrong, and people go wrong. This is not indicative of Massey. It doesn’t reflect on the school [of journalism] or the institution.

“We should continue to give the woman a voice in this case and not sweep any of it under the carpet.” 

A statement from Massey at Wellington Students’ Association (MAWSA) said, “Women, no matter where they live or who they are, deserve the right to live in peace with mana and dignity.

“We are devastated for this vulnerable, elderly kuia and our association sends her our aroha and best wishes.” 

The association did not hear about Hannis’s conviction until his sentencing.

MAWSA President Jamie-Lee Bracken said the association’s top priority is making sure students have access to help or counselling if they need it.

Hannis taught her in several undergraduate classes and said this has come as a huge shock.

Massey’s student advocacy service and health and counselling services are open throughout the week for students in need of support. 

According to a summary of facts, Hannis was visiting someone in a rest home in May 2018.

He approached the 82-year-old victim in the main living room and spoke to her. 

The woman had lived in the rest home since 2014 after suffering a stroke. She was physically weak and suffered from vascular dementia. 

When she left for her room, Hannis followed her, shut the door, and began touching and kissing her despite her attempts to push him away.

A caregiver came in and sensed that something was wrong. She asked what was going on but got no response and left to get the rest home manager. 

Hannis continued to molest the woman, putting his hand into her underwear, pulling down his trousers and exposing himself.

Hannis left and the caregiver came back into the room, finding the victim coming out of the bathroom with different trousers on. 

Hannis originally told police the act was consensual.

He retired without explanation in October 2018. When news of his conviction broke, it was revealed his retirement was because of the prosecution. 

While Hannis claimed he was suffering from mental health issues that partly caused his offending, Judge Stephen Harrop ruled there was no significant evidence he was suffering from any particular mental illness at the time. 

“While I have found the [mental health issues] not to be at a sufficient level to warrant final suppression of your name, that is not to say that it should be ignored,” Judge Harrop said. 

The woman’s daughter told the court her mother’s health deteriorated since the incident, that she is suffering from an immense loss of dignity, and no longer feels safe.

Hannis worked at Consumer magazine for many years and taught journalism in New Zealand and the United States.  

He was made Head of Journalism at Massey University in 2003, promoted to Associate Professor by 2014. 

Media law and ethics were among the subjects he taught countless students.