Content warning: The letter contains mention of sexual assault.
Two weeks ago, the AMS released its own standalone sexual violence policy for public consultation. These policies offer a venue for students to bring forward complaints pertaining to AMS members, clubs and staff while providing outcomes within AMS control. While it may not have caught the full attention of students, the new Sexual Violence Policy and updated Respectful Environment Policy are so revolutionary in nature and we cannot let them slide under the radar.
As a student society, there’s only so far that complaints can go, unlike the more extensive reach of UBC’s Policy 131 on Sexual Violence and Other Sexual Misconduct – or even the final stop of law enforcement intervention. As such, some may find it easy to dismiss this policy as useless and ineffective when considering the scope of what the AMS is actually able to act on. One might feel that if the most that the AMS can actually do is kick someone out of a club or ban them from the building, then why bother?
But, for survivors, it’s revolutionary.
I began my first year at a different school in Europe and was enthusiastic about the opportunities to be involved with the campus community. Within a month of my arrival, I was sexually assaulted by an executive of the student government. And it broke me.
I approached the administration and begged for help, but in a country where both the culture and procedures were foreign to me, the experience of advocating for myself was arguably more traumatic than my assault. I was informed that unless there was a concrete ruling by the police, there was nothing the university would be willing to do to make campus safe for me — let alone suspend him from his position of power over students. Working with foreign police to enter a long, drawn-out, traumatic process that may or may not outlive either of our times spent at the university was just not an option I had the capacity to see through.
I ended up transferring to UBC halfway through that year because I couldn’t survive on a campus without support. Since then, I’ve been restless in learning both how I can heal myself and how I can ensure no other survivor is put through the painful bureaucracy I endured. Understanding and having empathy for the difficult decisions survivors have to make on their healing journey is absolutely critical. We need to have compassion as a campus and recognize that reporting assaults to the police is not the be all and end all for survivors. In fact, it can be the last thing any of us wish to do. If we truly want to work towards creating a campus of consent culture, we cannot push survivors to seek justice and healing through processes that they are not comfortable with. Every survivor is different and the most important thing you can do to support them is to give them the agency to choose their next step.
In their new standalone sexual violence policy, the AMS is not offering the cure to campus rape culture or anything radical that oversteps their authority as a student union. What they are offering is a stepping stone for survivors to to make student life at UBC safer. Clubs are a source of friendship and belonging on campus. When someone commits an act of sexual violence or other misconduct within these spaces, both your personal safety and the safety you feel in these groups are taken from you. This is the type of unique situation that the AMS policy is designed to act on. To be given the agency to ensure these places will not be taken away from you, even when it feels like everything else in your world has, is unmistakably powerful.
As the consultation process continues, I encourage students, survivors and allies to engage with the AMS on this groundbreaking policy.
Going to the police is not for everyone. Going to the UBC Independent Investigations Office is not for everyone. But reclaiming your space and safety in the AMS is right for someone —and providing more options for survivors is absolutely right for everyone.
Julia Burnham is a fourth-year First Nations and Indigenous Studies major and currently the AMS Campaigns and Outreach Commissioner. She is also a former writer for The Ubyssey. The opinions expressed are solely her own.