UBC’s sexual misconduct policy has been amended ­— but still contains gaps

After ten months of formal review, the amended version of SC17, UBC’s Sexual Misconduct Policy was approved at the June Board of Governors meeting and went into effect on July 1, 2020.

The new version fills some of the holes pointed out through consultation processes, but still leaves some criticisms unaddressed.

Providing clarity

The amended SC17 introduces a definition for ‘trauma-informed approach,’ and commits to following it when responding to cases of sexual misconduct.

“A clear definition will ensure that all of the other elements of the policy are really interpreted in line with the trauma-informed approach that’s outlined,” said Annette Angell, manager of the Sexual Assault Support Centre (SASC).

The updated policy also provides much greater context around consent. Section 4.1.2 assigns the responsibility of obtaining consent to the “initiator of a sexual activity,” distinguishing an act from an entire encounter following feedback on initial drafts.

While the previous version had also stated that a complainant’s consumption of drugs or alcohol would be a relevant factor in determining if they were able to provide consent, the amended version now explicitly states that the same circumstances would not be a defence for a respondent’s mistaken belief that consent was obtained. Additionally, individuals who disclose or report sexual misconduct will not face disciplinary action for violating any UBC policies, rules or regulations relevant to drug or alcohol use during the sexual misconduct.

Amendments were also made on section 8.6 of the policy, which gives the Sexual Violence Prevention and Response Office (SVPRO) director the ability to file an institutional report to the Investigations Office if multiple disclosures have been made regarding a single individual.

After feedback during the review process, the policy now clearly states the SVPRO director must obtain consent from the individuals who disclosed before pursuing an institutional report.

“... Now the focus is on having the informed consent of a survivor before anything is shared elsewhere,” said Alicia Oeser, director of SVPRO.

Remaining concerns

Despite the changes made, submissions from the AMS and the SASC to the Board of Governors point out persisting areas of concern within the policy.

While the procedures for SC17 clearly outline avenues for respondents to appeal disciplinary outcomes following an investigation, it noticeably lacks appeal options for complainants.

In response to this criticism, the review committee for SC17 cited the University Act, which “limits appeals to those who have been subject to discipline,” and responded that appeal procedures fall under jurisdiction of the Senate, which are outside of their control.

“While this policy may not allow for changes to be made in how the Senate conducts and manages appeals, there is room in the policy to provide survivors with other options,” the SASC wrote in their feedback to the Board, identifying other ways in which survivors can seek an appeal, such as allowing for re-submissions of reports.

“... It really is about ensuring that survivors have the same kind of procedural options [that] respondents do in the process,” said Angell.

Another concern is that the policy does not require trauma-informed training for individuals who may interact regularly with it. Instead, the policy states that UBC will only offer training to UBC persons responsible for addressing sexual misconduct.

While staff at SVPRO and the Investigations Office already receive trauma-informed training, decision-makers, including individuals who assign disciplinary outcomes, are not required to partake under SC17.

“It takes active training and reflection to think about how we can adjust our practices to better support survivors,” said Angell. “Without this training being mandatory — to us, that is a significant gap.”

In order to ensure the policy will be implemented with a trauma-informed approach, the SASC recommends mandatory, annual trauma-informed training for all people in the university who may regularly address sexual misconduct.

Throughout the review process, concerns were also raised surrounding the membership and consultation practices of the review committee. Noticeably, the SASC was not offered a seat on the committee, which Georgia Yee, AMS VP academic and university affairs, said was “a great loss to the university.” While the AMS did get a single seat on the review committee, it was something they had to lobby for.

“From the university’s side ... it wasn’t proactive engagement — [getting a seat] was definitely something that the AMS and SASC really had to fight for,” said Yee.

Moving forward

Since its establishment in 2017, SC17 has been strongly criticized for its policy and implementation gaps posing barriers to survivors. One of the recommendations agreed upon by the review committee, the SASC and the AMS is the call to create an Implementation Committee that would be responsible for creating plain-language versions of the policy, among other tasks.

While there have been no confirmations that such a committee will be established, Angell and Yee have both said that there have been “conversations” around its creation.

In their submission to the Board, the AMS advocates for the SASC to have their own seat on the Implementation Committee, as well as on future review committees for the policy.

“It’s vital that the SASC, as content experts … have a seat [on the committee],” said Yee.