AMS approves sexual assault external policy

The AMS has approved a external sexual assault policy to establish what it believes is necessary to include in the university's own developing sexual assault policy.

The goal of the AMS policy is to ask the university to reevaluate the processes and protocols with regards to handling sexual assault reports. Currently, the university has a policy for all non-academic misconduct including sexual assault, but no policy specifically designed to handle the process of reporting a sexual assault.

“Survivors navigating the process have support at [UBC]. However, the way in which the process itself happens isn’t always specifically mindful to the fact that it’s sexual assault,” said Jenna Omassi, AMS VP Academic and University Affairs. She cited examples of the processes leading to survivors being in the same room as perpetrators or taking over six months to complete.

“The way in which sexual assault needs to be dealt with is in a very different way than other assaults … to ensure that survivors have agency to choose how to navigate the process,” said Omassi, explaining that because the nuances of sexual assault are so specific to each survivor, the response needs to be sensitive to their individual perspective.

Currently, many argue that the policies are not appropriate for sexual assault because they do not take this victim-centred approach and do not give due weight to the complexities inherent in sexual violence. A victim-centred approach includes a commitment to believe the survivor’s claim in order to ensure that they are able to get the help they need. The AMS sexual assault external policy aims to point that this is missing from UBC’s current policy.

Additionally, the AMS policy includes explicit definitions for consent and sexual assault with the hope that the university will mirror such specificity in its new policy.

Other key points of the policy are demands for the university to create a sexual assault response team in addition to the pre-existing sexual assault prevention team, continue to advocate for awareness of issues around sexual assault on campus, provide reformative education for perpetrators of sexual violence as well as create processes and protocols that will implement these changes.

The last point regarding the actualization of these demands is the most important part, Omassi emphasizes. Policy alone is not enough. “Policies are great if you have practices, processes and protocols that exist under them. If those don’t exist and we aren’t happy with those yet, policy isn’t going to solve anything,” she said. Just creating a policy can create an attitude of, ‘Look what we did ,we’re so great. Now we can close the door,’ which is the opposite of what we want.”

Because the AMS does not have the power to enforce its own policy for the whole student body, they have made the sexual assault policy an external policy, meaning that it calls on the university to action to reevaluate its protocols and processes as well as recreate them by including the experiences of survivors in the conversation.

Both Omassi and Ashley Bentley, the director of the AMS Sexual Assault Support Centre (SASC), will be present in the conversation leading to the university’s creation of the new policy.

Omassi recognizes that certain processes and proceedings are already in place at the university and that the AMS policy calls for an evaluation and reshaping of those policies.

The AMS policy was created through consultations with several groups, including the AMS University & External Relations Committee and SASC.

In light of all this, Omassi stresses that SASC is an AMS service and is therefore independent of UBC processes. If students or community members have concerns about university processes, then they should feel free to seek support at the centre. “This isn’t just for survivors … but also for anyone else who wants to learn about sexual assault in any way,” said Omassi.