British Columbia

Number of sexual misconduct reports at UBC up 83% in 1 year

The number of sexual misconduct reports at the University of British Columbia were up by 83 per cent last year, according to the UBC Investigations Office.

Investigation office said it could be a sign of increased comfort reporting incidents

The AMS Sexual Assault Support Centre at the University of British Columbia has reported a sharp increase in people accessing services since the pandemic began. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

The number of reported sexual misconduct cases at the University of British Columbia skyrocketed last year, according to the institution's Investigation Office (IO).

Carly Stanhope, director of investigations, says while it's hard to say exactly what is responsible for the sharp increase — from 30 reports to 55 — the uptick could actually be a sign people are becoming more comfortable reporting non-consensual and unwanted acts including sexual touching, harassment, and direct or indirect communications of a sexual nature.

This, she said, could be a consequence of the COVID-19 pandemic which saw the office move more of its services online. Stanhope said the new setup allows alleged victims to attend investigation interviews virtually where they can tell their story at their own pace without cross-examination by the respondent or their legal counsel.

"My hope is that in taking this approach, we're creating a process that people actually trust and feel safe enough to go through," said Stanhope, speaking Monday on CBC's The Early Edition.

"It's always hard to talk about a traumatic event, but we do everything that we can to minimize traumatization through our processes."

Over the past two years, the IO's services and investigations were uninterrupted, despite the pandemic.

Aashna Josh, manager at the Sexual Assault Support Centre at the school's Vancouver campus, said the centre's services also became more accessible because of COVID-19. Josh said the office primarily operates in person but had to scale up phone and video accessibility during the pandemic.

"We've seen a massive, massive increase in service uptake," said Josh.

And while the 2020 school year did have in-class learning interruptions due to the virus, the number of reports received by the IO had remained relatively consistent since the office was created in 2017 until the noted spike between May 1 2021 and Feb. 15, 2022.

Stanhope said during the pandemic, there was an increase in the number of reports about online sexual harassment, but now the office is seeing a rise in face-to-face incidents. The office has hired an additional investigator to handle the increased caseload.

Despite the possible increase in comfort reporting to the school, Stanhope says the total number of cases probably represents a "very small fraction of the misconduct that's happening."

 "That's simply because sexual assault generally is the most underreported violent crime in Canada," she said.

According to 2019 data from Statistics Canada, sexual assault is one of the most underreported crimes in the country — only about five per cent of sexual assaults experienced by women are reported to police.

You can read the IO's recent report here.

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