An look into the prevalence of sexual assault at universities in Canada.
January is Sexual Assault Awareness Month – an initiative which aims to raise awareness of sexual abuse and harassment and to highlight the need for services and support for survivors of sexual assault. Today, this need is as dire as ever. According to sexual assault centre SACHA, there are 460,000 sexual assaults in Canada every year. Out of every 1000 sexual assaults, 33 are reported to the police, 29 are recorded as a crime, 12 have charges laid, 6 are persecuted, 3 lead to conviction, and 997 assailants walk free.
But this isn’t a crime that’s happening in the far-off corners of Canada. It’s happening right here on this campus, far more often than many realize.
According to UBCO Health and Wellness, “15 to 25% of female students, 6.1% of male students, and 24% of transgender, genderqueer, and questioning students in college and university experience some form of sexual assault.” This highlights a discrepancy when compared to official UBC Sexual Assault Statistics. UBC Okanagan reports only 13 sex offences between 2009 and 2018, while UBC Vancouver reports 182 sex offences during the same period.
The discrepancy in the numbers of sexual assaults on the UBC campuses could in part be due to the fact that up until March 2015, the universities were not required to publicly report incidents of sexual violence on their campuses.
The original lack of reporting hides the fact that sexual assault on university campuses is a prevalent issue. In 2015, the Canadian Federation of Students, Ontario, published a fact sheet detailing the high levels of sexual assault which occur on Canadian University campuses. According to the fact sheet, while attending a post-secondary institution, one in five women experience sexual assault.
Women aged 18 to 24 are at the highest risk of experiencing sexual assault, with the rate of women in this age range experiencing sexual assault at twice the rate for “women aged 25 to 34, and four times higher than women between 35 and 44.5.”
Of sexual assaults that occur on University campuses, the Canadian Federation of Students reported that “more than 80 percent of rapes that occur on college and university campuses are committed by someone known to the victim, with half of these incidents occurring on dates.”
A campus survey at the University of Alberta found that “21 percent of students reported having at least one unwanted sexual experience at some point in their life.” Over half of these experiences happened in their first year of studies. Students in their first year of university report high levels of sexual violence.
According to Huffington Post Canada, “two thirds of campus sexual assaults occur during the first eight weeks of school, a time some activists call ‘the red zone.’”
SACHA details that only 5% of sexual assault survivors report to the police. Common reasons for not reporting include believing the crime was minor and not worth reporting (71%), handling the incident informally (67%), thinking that no one was harmed (63%), not wanting to deal with the police (45%), assuming the police wouldn’t consider it important (43%), and thinking that the offender wouldn’t be convicted (40%).
Even further, the Canadian Federation of Students estimates that 80% of women who are sexually assaulted do not report due to humiliation, or a fear of being victimized again during the legal process: “barriers like this re-victimization, personal financial risk of litigation, and the emotional strain of trial keep many survivors away from the legal system.”
This can be seen in the Steven Galloway case at UBC Vancouver in 2015. According to CBC News, he is currently in the midst of “suing 20 people for defamation, including the woman who first accused him of sexual misconduct three years ago.” Galloway is alleging that the woman “falsely accused him of sexual and physical assaults,” arguing that the affair he had with this woman was consensual, and her accusation was simply to create a narrative which paints him as the wrongful party.
Galloway was suspended from UBC in late 2015 when an investigation began into “serious allegations of misconduct.” Though his employment at UBC was terminated, a labour arbitration decision later ordered the university to pay him $167,000 in damages for statements UBC made during the process which harmed his reputation and violated his privacy.
Until 2016, there was no requirement for universities to have sexual assault policies. According to the Canadian Federation of Students, in “November 2014, only 9 out of 78 Canadian Universities had sexual assault policies.”
However, this changed in April of 2016 in British Columbia. According to the Government of British Columbia website, B.C. “introduced the Sexual Violence and Misconduct Policy Act with the aim of making campuses safer and more responsive to the needs of victims/survivors.” This Act required every public “university, college and institute” in British Columbia to create and implement a sexual misconduct policy that is publicly available on each institution’s website.
These policies needed to address sexual misconduct, including prevention and response to misconduct. Further, the Act requires schools to set out procedures for students to make a disclosure, compliant, or report of “sexual misconduct involving a student,” along with procedures to respond to these reports.
However, after UBC implemented these policies in 2017, there have been a myriad of issues with the policy. This past summer, Thistle, UBC’s Vice-President of Human Resources admitted that UBC “may have underestimated how long it was going to take to get the resources [needed] here.” Even so, Thistle contends that UBC has made progress in recent months; new staff members have been hired and trained to help implement the policy.
So how can we as a society end the perpetuation of rape culture? First of all, know the facts. More times than not, a perpetrator won’t be an anonymous man at a party, or a back-alley stranger. In reality, the perpetrator is known to the victim in 82% of sexual assaults. Perhaps even more concerning is that, according to SACHA, most perpetrators don’t consider themselves perpetrators at all. In a 2010 UK report, 48% of men aged 18 to 25 believed that sex with women who are too drunk to know what is going on was not rape.
This indicates the importance of always getting consent from a partner. Consent is a voluntary and enthusiastic “yes,” needed for every sexual activity. It cannot be assumed in cases where the person is silent or doesn’t say “no.” Consent cannot be given if someone impaired by drugs or alcohol, is asleep, or is passed out. And most importantly, it can be revoked at any time.
It’s also necessary to re-examine masculinity. Women and girls are five times more likely to experience sexual violence than males. But this isn’t to say men are never victims. Statistically, 1 in 6 men will experience some form of sexual violence in their lifetime.
Finally, build an open dialogue. Sexual assault continues to be a serious problem in our society, both on campus and off. But like any problem, it won’t disappear if it’s covered up. Remember that “revealing” clothes do not cause or warrant rape. Flirting does not cause or warrant rape. Walking home alone does not cause rape. Being drunk does not cause or warrant rape. Sexual assault is never the survivor’s fault, regardless of who they were with or what they were doing at the time of their assault. The only person responsible for sexual assault is its the perpetrator; rapists cause rape.