UBC concedes it 'underestimated' resources required to implement sexual-assault policy

The University of British Columbia is ramping up efforts to implement its sexual-assault policy a year after its launch, following a report that denounced the policy's "countless unresolved issues."

School insists it's making progress after report on 'countless unresolved issues'

Young men walk past large letters spelling out UBC at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, B.C., on November 22, 2015. (Darryl Dyck/Canadian Press)

The University of British Columbia is ramping up efforts to implement its sexual-assault policy a year after its launch, following a report that denounced its "countless unresolved issues." 

The university is now hiring more staff and creating new space for its offices dedicated to sexual violence. It plans to more aggressively market the policy at the start of the school year and to train faculty and staff on dealing with disclosures. 

​The details were presented in a June 5 update to a UBC board of governors committee, shedding light on a policy that was highly publicized prior to its roll-out, but has since struggled to find footing. 

"We may have underestimated how long it was going to take to get the resources we need here. But we have made great traction on that in the last four months," said Barbara Meens Thistle, UBC's vice-president of human resources. 

The school, which has faced criticism since 2015 over its handling of student allegations, introduced its first standalone sexual-assault policy in May 2017, following months of community consultation. 

It launched a centralized investigations office, as well as offices for supporting survivors of sexual violence in its Point Grey and Okanagan campuses. 

Between May 2017 and May 2018, the Vancouver office received 159 disclosures, while Okanagan saw 37 disclosures. 

The director of investigations received 43 reports, 25 of which were investigated. 

University of British Columbia students walk past a sexual assault poster on the campus in Vancouver, B.C., on Wednesday October 30, 2013. (Darryl Dyck/Canadian Press)

'Murky message to survivors'

In an April 2018 letter to the board of governors, UBC's student-led Alma Mater Society said it had "significant concerns" with how the policy was being rolled out, as first reported in The Ubyssey.  

The Sexual Violence Prevention and Response Office was "significantly under-resourced," the society said. Its directors were hired months after the policy came into effect and two of the three offices remain understaffed. 

"We wanted to hire people out of the community. That's harder to do than what I think we originally thought," Meens Thistle said. 

The school will be hiring for nine more positions this year, including two Indigenous specialists. 

Max Holmes, AMS' vice-president of academic and university affairs, said it's still unclear which cases the university has the jurisdiction to handle, such as students who go on exchange or incidents that occur in the Greek Village.

"It sends a really murky message to survivors," he said. 

'I would like it to be more transparent'

Other concerns revolve around UBC's communication. 

There's still confusion among departments about how to handle disclosures, and faculty and staff have yet to be trained, Holmes said. 

UBC is sending its director of investigations to meet with faculty deans and department heads over the summer. 

Lucia Lorenzi, who was part of an expert panel that submitted recommendations for the policy, said the website for the Sexual Violence Prevention and Response Office offers little information about staff or external resources.

"I would it like to be more transparent," she said. 

Holmes said a recent AMS survey signals a lack of trust in the system. 

Among 3,000 students surveyed, a third of respondents said they were not aware of the new sexual support offices and a fifth said they wouldn't feel comfortable accessing the services.  

A quarter of respondents said they wouldn't feel comfortable reporting sexual assault or misconduct to campus officials.

UBC will conduct a full review of the policy in 2020. 

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