Everything you need to know about the University Sexual Assault Panel report

The University Sexual Assault Panel's report was released on September 12. This panel, which was commissioned by Martha Piper — interim university president at the time — was intended to inform discussion around the creation of a new sexual assault policy and make wider recommendations concerning UBC's policy and practice. Its wide scope was created with the intention of advising the university on how they can change policy, practice and culture on campus to both prevent sexual assault and accommodate its survivors. 

The panel commissioned consisted of five faculty members and one recent PhD graduate, all of whose scholarship and practice includes sexual violence and related issues, goes beyond policy recommendations.

“Rape cultures are socially constructed and thus can be transformed,” reads the report. “It is time for UBC to step up and assume a leadership role, creating a carefully considered response that reflects an understanding of the complexity of the issue and an appreciation of the inherent power relations that exist in hierarchically organized institutions of higher education.” 

UBC president Santa J. Ono recently announced that the panel's report has been provided to the policy committee responsible for UBC's new sexual assault policy and that it's recommendations will also be considered more widely.

“I am also asking a small working group to make recommendations to the UBC Executive regarding the appropriate processes, infrastructure and resources to best serve our community, support survivors, and ensure that the education, prevention and awareness work that UBC undertakes makes us a leader in Canada,” said Ono in a written statement.

While the 30-page panel report and its many appendixes are too long to be analyzed here in full, this article will provide an overview of its sections and most central recommendations. The report can be read in full here

History and context

The panel considers the report and its recommendations a timely project. 

“The current climate at UBC certainly calls for urgency on policies and procedures relating to sexual violence,” notes the report. 

Considering that UBC students and members of the surrounding community are not largely different from the wider Canadian society, the writers of the report felt that there is reason to assume that they are sexually assaulted at similar rates. This is not represented in the statistics that UBC publicizes each year.

“The number of sexual assaults committed by students that end up in a disciplinary process at UBC is negligible,” reads the report.  

 In 10 academic years — from 2004-05 through 2013-14 — the writers of the report found only one allegation of sexual assault that was brought before UBC and UBCO's Non-Academic Misconduct Committee, and that too did not result in a finding of responsibility.

The report also notes that UBC is now required to have a sexual assault policy due to BC's Bill 23. However, the bill only requires a sexual assault policy relating to students. The panel encourages UBC to go past the bill's requirements (something which was demonstrated in the draft sexual assault policy).

Methodology

The panel's methodology was three-fold — combining the panel member's expertise, research processes into other institutional policies and approaches and a series of community consultations. They placed a lot of specific focus on consulting with those directly engaged with and affected by sexual assault at UBC. Altogether, the panel spoke to about 50 people on both campuses and received approximately 40 emails with input from various community members.

Key definitions

The panel held a broad definition of UBC when making its recommendations, including both the physical space and people with institutional connections. They also constructed the Point Grey campus as a small city, acknowledging that “many residents ... may have no connection to UBC apart from their place of residence, but ... identify strongly with the idea that UBC is their home community.”

Principles to guide UBC's response to sexual assault

“In order for institutional change to be undertaken in a meaningful way at UBC, sexual assault must be approached in alignment with a set of common principles that span individual action items,” reads the panel's report. 

The panel recommends having three foundational principles:

1. Foster a climate that takes sexual assault seriously.

2. Implement survivor-centered actions, policies and processes

3. Understand the broader social and systemic context of sexual assault

Panel recommendations

The panel's recommendations are organized into four categories: institutional transformations, institutional accountability, education and prevention and response to sexual assault. Each section's recommendations are presented and then discussed.

“In our consultations, we repeatedly heard that it will take more than quick fixes or any individual action items to properly address sexual assault, but will take wholesale shifts in the campus climate in which violence occurs,” notes the panel report.

This image represents how the panel views their agenda for action.
This image represents how the panel views their agenda for action. Image courtesy University Sexual Assault Panel Report

Institutional transformation

The panel identified five measures that they believe will lead to “broad-based transformative institutional change in how sexual assault is addressed at UBC.”

 First off, they recommend that the university develop a centralized body to oversee and coordinate sexual assault response.

“Sexual assault is not just a legal problem, but a societal one, requiring that UBC take responsibility for the climate it fosters and for the widespread communication of measures being taken to address sexual assault.”

— University Sexual Assault Panel Report

“This coordinated approach would avoid survivors having to tell their story over and over again as they navigate ‘the maze’ of sexual assault services, as it has been described,” noted the report. “We believe that UBC should implement a one-stop, but not one-size-fits-all, model.”

The panel also advocates for the standardization of timelines and communications in response to reports of sexual assault. As a part of this, they say that timelines must be published widely and be given to survivors. When these timelines are not followed or are delayed, the panel wants the university to provide an explanation.

The panel also wants UBC to keep survivors updated on the status of the reports.

“We are concerned that few reports will ever be made if the survivor is given no further information after they make their report and we do not think that privacy legislation demands this approach.”

Aside from this, the panel believes the university should have a disciplinary process in place that is sexual assault specific. Currently, the university deals with sexual assault complaints from students through the non-academic misconduct process, and allegations made by faculty and staff through a combination of the faculty and staff relations, actions of administrative heads and the Equity and Inclusion Office.

Finally, the panel wants UBC to implement evidence-based practice, apply an accountability framework and be continuously evaluated.

“[Bill 23's] framework requires UBC, along with all BC post-secondary institutions, to prepare an annual accountability document, including a three-year plan and report,” reads the report. “A parallel mechanism for UBC’s accountability in addressing sexual assault should be created and made publicly available.”

“Sexual assault is not just a legal problem, but a societal one, requiring that UBC take responsibility for the climate it fosters and for the widespread communication of measures being taken to address sexual assault.”

Institutional accountability

To foster accountability, the panel recommends the involvement of a diverse group in overseeing the developing of an action plan to address sexual assault and also in the ongoing monitoring of rates of disclosure and reporting.

Additionally, the panel advises that the university provide funding and institutional support for programs and research related to sexual assault. It also places focus on having faculty and students play leading roles in making progress against sexual assault, and transforming the content and tone of UBC communications related to sexual assault.

“Currently, UBC communications frequently advise community members to ‘be vigilant’ in the wake of sexual assaults. We heard that these messages to ‘be vigilant’ can invoke fear in women students, staff and faculty, who are already living with heightened awareness of their risk of gendered violence in everyday life.”

The panel also advises the university to broaden communication to include the Musqueam and Okanagan First Nations, as well as the University Neighbourhoods Association when applicable.

Education and prevention

When it comes to education action on campus, the panel recommends that the university expand education on sexual assault to include faculty and staff, and integrate sexual assault education into orientation and beyond for faculty, students and staff, with a focus on the representation of intersectional feminist approaches. 

The panel also wants the university to make sexual assault education and prevention a priority in the Teaching and Learning Enhancement Fund (TLEF) and create support structures for individuals who may receive disclosures.

As for preventative measures on campus, the panel recommends that the university communicate disciplinary measures more effectively and develop a relationship with the RCMP that involves educating them on the needs of minorities and oppressed groups. The panel also advocates for better lighting, better walking corridors, more support for Safewalk, improve transportation on campus and consider sexual assault prevention for events, especially those with alcohol. Recommendations similar to these also appeared in the recently released Campus Security External Review.

Additionally, they want to improve safety for work placements, practicums and other experiential learning programs organized through UBC.

“It appears that UBC does not currently routinely screen most potential employees for past offences of sexual assault, either through a criminal record check or through reference checks,” said the panel report. “The university should consider how it might better deal with this question of known risk in its hiring and admitting processes.”

Response to sexual assault

“Research has shown that how a disclosure is handled has a significant impact on the long-term wellness of survivors.”

The panel report advises the university to continue to expand training on who to receive a disclosure, and places emphasis on the creation and distribution of a handout and online resources with instructions for anyone who receives one.

Expansion of the sexual assault related services offered by the university is also highly recommended.

“Not only should the operating hours of key services be well-publicized, but there should also be a 24-hour crisis line with trained staff that can provide immediate referral and support, as well as be available to inform students of support services and reporting options that are unique to UBC campuses,” reads the report.

They also recommend making sure outside anti-violence organizations are aware of UBC's services and policies so that they can better aid UBC community members who come to them.

“We believe the university cannot avoid taking action on complaints of sexual assault involving members of the university community. The police and the courts cannot expel someone from school or terminate their employment. Even where a criminal process is instituted, resolution can take many months or years and the university, with a highly transient population, cannot simply wait for the outcome of that process.”

Appendixes

Appendix A provides a list of existing offices and resources related to sexual assault, Appendix B provides the panel members' biographies, Appendix C shows the case studies used in consultations, Appendix D provides a list of the key documents consulted and Appendix E documents the sexual assault policies at Canadian post-secondary institutions.