New Brunswick

Sexual assault reported at St. Thomas University

St. Thomas University has received a report of sexual assault since the beginning of the new semester, CBC News has learned.

University of New Brunswick, St. Thomas University amping up training and awareness around sexual assault

St. Thomas University has received a report of sexual assault since the beginning of the new semester, CBC News has learned.   

The university would not offer any details about the incident other than it had happened between Sept. 1 and Sept. 15.

"We've had one report of a sexual assault and we're dealing with that presently," said Jeffrey Carleton, the spokesman for St. Thomas University.

"I'm not going to provide any further information on that as it's an ongoing investigation."   

Sonya Gilks, a spokeswoman for the University of New Brunswick, said there have been no reports of sexual assault received at either the Fredericton or Saint John campus this semester.

Lorraine Whalley, the executive director of the Fredericton Sexual Assault Crisis Centre, says the back-to-school period brings together a number of factors sometimes associated with sexual assaults. (CBC )
Lorraine Whalley, the director of the Fredericton Sexual Assault Crisis Centre, said the start of a new school year can bring with it factors sometimes associated with sexual assaults.

"A large population, and alcohol, an increase of alcohol ... although that's certainly not a cause of sexual assault," said Whalley.

Whalley said the back-to-school period is also an opportunity for awareness around sexual violence and consent.   

"We're looking at it as an opportunity — where you have a lot of young people arriving at the same time their new to an environment and a new climate and it's important to educate them on the risks," she said.

"Whether they are potential victims, or potential perpetrators ... we want to create a safe environment."

CBC News visited the two Fredericton campuses and checked a total of 74 bulletin boards at UNB and STU.

Out of 47 at UNB, two displayed any information related to sexual assault. Out of 27 billboards at STU, 12 displayed information about sexual assault.   

Natasha Ashfield, a UNB communications officer, said in an email the school has more awareness campaigns happening than just on billboards.

She said there are also workshops, self-defence training and security presentations to student groups as measures the university was taking to prevent sexual assault.

Gilks also stated UNB has trained 600 individuals on bystander situations.

Jeffrey Carleton, spokesman for St Thomas University, said STU has undertaken a number of initiatives to educate students about sexual assault. (CBC )
"[It is] an internationally recognized program targeted at groups of students and university leaders, including all varsity student-athletes, all residence dons and proctors and all orientation leaders," she said.

"The training is mandatory and uses a community of responsibility approach, teaching bystanders how to identify and safely intervene in instances where violent behaviour may be or is at risk of occurring."

According to Carleton, STU also trained 160 student leaders on bystander training, a response measure for those witnessing a potential sexual assault, and plans on using several different approaches for distributing information related to sexual assault. 

"We can always do more," said Carleton.

"Bulletin boards are awfully full around university and often times people take things down after they are put up. We have resident students with resident advisers, we have student services, we also deal with students through the website. We also email students directly." 

Publicly reported stats important

The Fredericton Sexual Assault Crisis Centre's director says relevant and accurate data about recent sexual assaults on campus is important in order to equip students with as much information as possible, in order to protect themselves.

"I think if we're getting numbers, if that's something that's been reported, then that means it's an issue in the forefront" said Whalley.   

"The more a campus responds [to those numbers] with various activities, or policies, or programming around sexual assault, or preventing sexual assault, or responding to sexual assault, the more likely it is that when sexual assaults happen the more victims feel like there is a climate of support." 

A CBC News investigation last winter showed some Maritime universities had under-reported the number of sexual assault reports at their schools when initially asked by CBC News for the information.

Right to information requests revealed higher numbers than what was initially provided.

When asked to account for the discrepancies, the schools said they had erred — in either having misinterpreted their data or having not carried out the fullest possible search of their records for the initial request.

Initially, UNB said it had one report of sexual assault between 2009 and 2013, and STU said it had received two. Those numbers increased to 11 and six, respectively, after the right to information requests.

This week, Carleton said the school is being more open about numbers, but stopped short of publishing them unprompted.

"As far as STU goes we'll always answer any questions put to us by students, student media, or the media," said Carleton.

"[Publishing statistics] is something that we definitely have to look at, but I can assure you we are not shying away from with dealing with this with the media," he said.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Shane Fowler

Reporter

Shane Fowler has been a CBC journalist based in Fredericton since 2013.

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