New Brunswick·CBC Investigates

Some N.B., N.S. universities under-reported sexual assault reports

Some universities in New Brunswick and Nova Scotia under-reported incidents of sexual assault in response to journalists’ questions, while others refused to provide any numbers.

Reports of sexual assault at some New Brunswick, Nova Scotia universities aren't being clearly tracked

Some New Brunswick and Nova Scotia universities released low or no numbers of reports of sexual assault, until compelled to respond under access to information requests, a CBC News investigation has found.

Jeffrey Carleton, spokesperson for St Thomas University, said the school is committed to doing better on reporting sexual assault numbers. (CBC )
The University of New Brunswick, St. Thomas University (STU), Acadia University, and St. Francis Xavier University (St. FX) all under-reported the number of times sexual assault had been reported between 2009 and 2013, when initially asked by CBC News.

Through their media relations offices, UNB reported one case, STU reported two cases, Acadia reported nine cases and St. FX reported four cases.

It wasn’t until CBC News filed requests to the universities under provincial Right to Information or Freedom of Information laws that more reports of sexual assault were revealed.

UNB's reported cases jumped to 11, STU's increased to six, Acadia increased to 22, and St. FX jumped to 21.

Lorraine Whalley, the executive director of the Fredericton Sexual Assault Crisis Centre, said accurate numbers on sexual assaults are an important opportunity for a conversation on the issue. (CBC )
When asked to account for the discrepancies, the schools all said they had erred — either having misinterpreted their data or having not carried out the fullest possible search of their records for the initial request.

Jeffrey Carleton, a spokesperson for St. Thomas University, says that school is committed to doing better.

"The more you speak about these issues, the more you publicize them, even if you don't handle them as well as you should, if you want to publicize them, if you want to speak frankly about them, that's how you get the issues on the agenda for students and the public," said Carleton.

"So in this particular case, we realize we didn't handle it — the compilation of the numbers — as well as we should have, and that's why we corrected it." he said.

A poster about sexual consent hangs on a bulletin board at Mount Allison University. (CBC)
Lorraine Whalley, the executive director of Fredericton’s Sexual Assault Crisis Centre, says accurate numbers are critical to understanding the issue of sexual assault.

"We really feel it is so important to be able to get at the numbers, to be getting at a true picture of the situation," said Whalley.

"In developing services, in developing responses, it is so necessary to have a true picture of incidents, whether it is in an institution, or the community at large," she said.

Three universities declined to release any numbers when initially asked. Cape Breton University, Dalhousie University and Mount Allison University all cited confidentiality concerns for the students who had made the reports.

The three schools did disclose the number of reported sexual assaults after the formal Right to Information and Freedom of Information requests were filed. They recorded one, 38 and 14, reports respectively.

Ron Byrne, the vice-president of student affairs at Mount Allison University, said students may not know the frequency with which sexual assaults are reported to the school. (CBC)
Mount Allison administrators say they don't put much stock in numbers.

That school, such as others CBC News queried, has ongoing educational campaigns about sexual assault and consent, but vice-president of student affairs, Ron Byrne, admits students may not know the frequency with which sexual assaults are reported to the school.

"It is not a numbers game for us. It is fundamentally about talking and dealing with our students who have experienced difficulty around this issue and have come to us and reported," said Byrne.

"So we really want to interact with the individual, not some stat," he said.

Whalley says numbers are an important opportunity for conversation.

"Where we look at some really high-profile cases that came to our attention, to the attention of the public, and this shift that happened when one victim came forward, then another victim came forward — but it had to start from a place of reporting that sexual violence, sexual harassment and sexual assault had taken place," she said.

"It is not a black mark to talk about the fact that sexual assaults are occurring. That provides a conversation. It opens the door. It opens the door for people seeking help and it opens the door to being able to respond effectively," said Whalley.

Mount Saint Vincent University and Saint Mary’s University both responded to CBC’s initial query with numbers that squared with those later received through Freedom of Information requests. Those institutions reported two and 13 reports of sexual assault, respectively. 

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