"IF YOU DON'T KNOW HOW MANY ARE HAPPENING ON CAMPUS... THEN HOW CAN YOU REALLY UNDERSTAND HOW TO ATTACK THE ISSUE?"
KAMLOOPS — Thompson Rivers University released an interim protocol to support and respond to students who are victims of sexual assault, but a student who was attacked twice on campus says a developing policy to deal with the issue on campus should include counting the number of assaults to determine if both protocol and policy are effective.
Two and a half years ago, Jean Strong was attacked twice in her first year on campus by two male friends. For support and guidance, she says she booked a counselling appointment shortly afterwards.
"I described in detail what happened to me and my feelings about it and some of the issues I was facing and I was told that maybe TRU wasn’t the best fit as a university for me and that I would be better suited to a different school,” she says. "I wasn’t made aware of any of the other opportunities that they said they had available at that time. Realistically, I was supposed to be referred to the RCMP or Kamloops Sexual Assault Centre and I was supposed to be referred to student and judicial affairs."
The reason why Strong wishes she was referrred to judicial affairs is because it’s the one reporting location where her attacks would have been counted towards the total number on campus.
In February, CBC news contacted 87 post-secondary institutions to ask for total reports of sexual assault from 2009 to 2013. The number Thompson Rivers University supplied was one.
When Strong saw that statistic, she says she was surprised the number was so low and decided to investigate the university's policy and protocol on sex assault as a student journalist.
Strong interviewed Dean of Students Christine Adam and discovered her report made to the counsellor wouldn’t have been included in the total number because she never went to judicial affairs.
“If you don’t know how many are happening on campus - how many students are dealing with the issue - then how can you really understand how to attack the issue to fix it?” she says. "I think it’s something that needs to be made very clear that if a student is looking for resources on where to report a sexual assault that if they’re going to choose or select one space that it should be very clear that’s the one place. In my opinion, I think wherever a student discloses that should be counted and tracked so we can better see what’s actually happening on campus."
In the United States, publicly funded institutions are required to collect statistical data on campus sex assaults. Canada isn’t.
Currently, the university does not have a policy on sex assault.
“We do have other policies and there is legislation. So there are things that help us. But we don’t have a stand alone policy at this point," Adam says.
Before its release on July 29, the university’s interim protocol on managing sex assault reports wasn’t publicly accessible. Adam says the protocol, eventual policy and a developing sexual assault task force hopes to address issues with communication and educate people on consent and how to deal with the issue as a bystander.
"There wasn’t something that was accessible before. We’ve been working on this interim protocol for a number of months now. My colleagues across the country are doing this sort of work. We’re not alone in this recognition that we need to communicate things better," Adam says.
Adam says she’s not going to “pre-suppose what the task force does” on determining policy but wonders if collecting statistics will paint an accurate picture.
“This is the most under reported crime, period. If we have an increase in reporting does it mean that we have an increase in occurrence? Or does it mean that we’ve done our job well in making people feel comfortable reporting? That’s a really important thing that will be part of this conversation — what do we report and why and who is it serving? How is it serving our community safety and our students' well-being? It’s an important conversation in all of this."
Adam says the task force will examine reporting the assault statistics and “getting a better understanding of that,” but says garnering numbers won’t be a requirement moving forward.
"There has been national media attention on this issue that brings all of us to a point where we want to make sure that we are addressing concerns that are out there in the public but there are concerns about safety for our students and we always want to be sure that we ware on top of addressing issues relating to the safety and well-being of our students,” Adam says.
Strong, who signed on to the task force, hopes the university will collect data to track progress on the administrative initiatives set out to curb the issue.
Since Strong's story went live on The Digital Times - a news site created by TRU journalism students - she says she heard from other girls who faced an assault on campus.
"They had very similar experiences to myself and said they were told they would be better suited to a different university. Others came forward to report and said they didn’t receive any support. Others said they didn’t feel it was safe to come forward and report at all and TRU wasn’t a comfortable space for them to do that," she says.
Adam says advising students to change institutions never was nor will be part of the univerisity's protocol to deal with sexual assault. She would not comment if Strong's counsellor was reprimanded or dismissed for the comment, citing privacy issues.
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