UBC sex assault reports out of sync with police statistics

The number of sexual assault reports received by the University of British Columbia between 2009 and 2013 is less than a quarter of the number received by the RCMP detachment on the UBC campus during that same time period, a CBC News investigation has learned.

University says it will update its statistics next month

Sex assaults on campus

8 years ago
Duration 3:38
Are Canadian universities withholding information about sexual assaults?

The number of sexual assault reports received by the University of British Columbia between 2009 and 2013 is less than a quarter of the number received by the RCMP detachment on the UBC campus during the same time period, a CBC News investigation has learned.

The revelation raises questions about why UBC’s published data is out of sync with the RCMP’s figures.

As part of an investigation of sexual assault reporting on Canadian campuses, CBC News contacted 87 university and major colleges across Canada over the past six months, and requested the number of sexual assaults reported on each campus between 2009 and 2013.

Seventy-seven schools provided a complete set of data.

In its response to the CBC News survey, UBC said 16 students reported a sexual assault to the university between 2009 and 2013.

However, data obtained by CBC News from the RCMP detachment on the UBC campus, through access to information, shows more than 70 reports of sexual assault on the campus during the same time period.

A UBC graduate student who was sexually assaulted on campus says she is shocked by the discrepancy.

“If someone had said [there were 16 assaults reported] in one year, I might have said OK. But five years?” says Lucia Lorenzi, who was sexually assaulted four years ago by a fellow student in a UBC student lounge in the middle of the day.

“It makes we wonder who students have been trusting in telling and who is collecting the numbers.”

The school’s most recent annual statistics report says eight sexual assaults were reported to its campus in the year 2013.

“Reported offences involving crimes against people continue to be very low for a community of this size and the population of the Vancouver campus,” boasts the report.

However, according to the RCMP statistics, 19 sexual assaults were reported to the RCMP on the campus that same year.

“I think it raises the question as to the validity of that. I think it gives us something to think about. We haven't gone down the avenue of looking at RCMP data,” Louise Cowin, UBC’s vice president of students, told CBC News in an interview conducted on Jan. 23.

“Prior to you pointing it out to me today,” she said, the university had relied solely on sexual assault “reporting out of activity on campus through campus security.”

UBC stats ‘misleading’, says expert

Holly Johnson, an associate professor of criminology at the University of Ottawa, and the lead researcher for Statistics Canada’s first national survey on violence against women, said UBC could have done a better job at reporting sexual assault statistics.

“[The CBC investigation] has exposed something important,” says Johnson. “It's not entirely honest [for a university] to say, ‘Well, we record this many,’ without also saying we have police on our campus and this is what they record. I would say that's misleading.”

CBC News isn’t the first to point out that the RCMP also collects data on the campus. Last year, the university’s own Safety Working Group recommended publishing the RCMP statistics in UBCs annual report.

The report called for immediate action, but when asked if the university has requested sexual assault statistics from the RCMP, Cowin said, “I'd have to say that I'm not sure that we've actually explicitly tried.”

After the interview, UBC sent a follow-up email to CBC News saying they will act on their own recommendation in March.

“As was committed to in the November 2014 Campus Safety Working Group report, Campus Security and the UBC RCMP are working together to update sexual assault statistics with RCMP data,” the email said.

“As you know, the UBC Board of Governors has accepted the terms of that report, meaning the recommendations will be followed. The updated stats will be published in late March, which is the standard publishing time for the Campus Safety Annual Report.”

When asked if the university would go back and update its data from previous years posted online, Cowin said, “I don’t think that is something that is front of mind,” adding that she doesn't believe the RCMP number captures the true picture, either.

UBC: Focused on support

UBC is one of a handful of post-secondary schools in Canada that publishes annual statistics online documenting crimes occurring on campus. Currently, the university has five years’ worth of data on its website.

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)

However, UBC’s vice president of students says the school needs to be focused on making sure students get the help they need.

“I think what's most important, not about the report itself or about the number that's published, but that UBC as a campus culture, as a campus environment, really, holds a space where the intention of care and inclusion are very much present so that those who are survivors of sexual assault know that they can come forward in a safe space where their voices will be heard,” she says.

Lucia Lorenzi, on the other hand, questions why the university hasn’t made immediate changes to the statistics it posts online so that students can have a more accurate picture of what’s happening on campus.

“I don't have confidence. Especially after the assaults [in 2013],” says Lorenzi, referring to a high-profile string of stranger assaults on the campus.

When there was all this focus on UBC and talking about safety measures, and [emergency] blue lights and the phones, shouldn't that have been enough? Or is it now that the national spotlight has gone off of them, it's not as urgent? People are still being assaulted on campus every day, probably, or at least every week. So it makes me wonder why there is a delay.”

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