A former UBC Okanagan student who was sexually assaulted while working as a resident advisor has filed a human rights complaint against the university over how her investigation was handled.
The human rights complaint has not yet been accepted by the B.C. Human Rights Tribunal.
Black Press Media has chosen to refer to the survivor by the chosen name of Rose.
Rose was working at the university as an on-campus resident advisor in the fall of 2019 when another resident advisor sexually assaulted her. At the time, she was 19 and pursuing a degree in nursing. She has since graduated and found work in her field.
After a five-month investigation, UBCO determined that the fellow student had not contravened the school’s sexual misconduct policy, according to Freedom of Information documents obtained by Black Press Media.
“I felt like I had barely any support when I disclosed it to my managers and they just shuffled me around, making me disclose it several times before passing me off to the sexual violence prevention office.”
When her complaint was forwarded to UBCO’s Independent Investigations Office, investigation documentation shows that her case was handled by an investigator who had never dealt with a case like hers before and reached out to superiors for advice on multiple occasions for on how to proceed.
“The investigator had in her personal notes that I had said ‘no’ to sexual advances but left it out of the final report and ultimately made the call that because I didn’t say no it wasn’t assault,” Rose said.
Rose also detailed how the investigator asked her questions that reinforced rape myths, asking her if her body language changed, if she tried to push him off, if she said no more than once, and if she acted like she liked it.
“Each one of these questions discredited all the times I did say “no.” Each one of these questions discredited the fact that I never said “yes.” These questions made me feel like I did not do enough, and that the non-consensual sex was somehow my fault. These questions were traumatizing, and still haunt me.”
In her final report, the investigators wrote that Rose had not been sexually assaulted. Rose questions how the investigator made that determination.
“She actively chose to confirm the Respondent’sstory, without providing any evidence of the matter. There are other, more trauma-informed, procedurally fair, and impartial ways of concluding this investigation, such as ‘there are no findings,’ or ‘there is insufficient evidence to pursue disciplinary action.”
The RA accused of assault worked with a lawyer and explored the possibility of both an admission and an alternative resolution process.
“He had a lawyer for the whole investigation and they never told me, nor advised me to obtain legal council,” Rose said.
An alternative resolution process involves both parties to consent to a process where they discuss the incident and work to find an appropriate resolution. Rose declined to participate and chose to proceed with the investigation. Under UBCO’s sexual misconduct policy, only the complainant can propose an alternative resolution process.
Rose said she felt pressured by her investigator to go ahead with the ARP and was subjected to a phone call with representatives from UBCO’s Sexual Violence Prevention Office discussing the ARP process.
Once it was clear the ARP would not go ahead, the man’s lawyer listed multiple questions about the possibility of an admission, which were blanked out in the FOI, and asked if any potential discipline against him would appear on his academic record. Ultimately, he chose to defend himself.
In the process of the investigation, the man reached out to the one of the witnesses, despite being told that he was not to discuss the investigation with the witness under any circumstances. Rose expressed deep concern about potential witness tampering, but her investigator chose to interview that same witness regardless.
Rose also gave Black Press Media copies of RA performance evaluations that were completed by her manager.
After the assault, one such evaluation noted that she was not participating enough with the RA team and not being “present” for her residence, as well as having poor stress management.
“I got bad reviews for not hanging out with RAs in my spare time, but look at what happened when I hung out with an RA in my spare time.”
No appeal process possible
After Rose obtained her FOI, she wrote a letter to UBC, detailing her experience with the investigation and suggested several ways the university could adjust its policy to better protect survivors of sexual violence on campus.
“This could look like a clear way to appeal a finding or report a complaint about how such investigation was handled,” she wrote.
“Second, it is important to me that there is transparency throughout the investigation. It troubles me that complainants are only offered support through a UBC-run SVPRO office, whereas respondents are offered many options, which include suggesting legal counsel. If the respondent chooses to be represented by legal counsel, something which was not offered/suggested to the complainant, the complainant should be informed of this, and given time to obtain their own legal counsel and support, independent of UBC.”
In response, UBC’s Director of Investigations Carly Stanhope wrote that the investigation could not be appealed and offered to meet with Rose to discuss ways the university could improve.
“I am very sorry to hear about the significant impact the IO’s investigation had on you. However, as you identified, UBC’s current policy does not provide an option to appeal investigation findings or request re-investigation,” Stanhope wrote in a letter.
“In light of this framework, the IO is unable to re-open your investigation.”
Rose declined to meet with Stanhope.
Former UBCO Students’ Union President Tashia Kotenayoo spoke to Black Press Media about the investigation in November 2021. Kotenayoo said the university should apologize for the way the investigation was handled.
“Her experience sounds all too familiar and demonstrates the inability of the institution to create a culture of consent,” she said at the time.
“With this specific case, I think the survivor is owed an apology — a meaningful apology. Not only for what they experienced in the investigation, but what they experienced as an employee and student of the university.”
UBCO declined to comment on Rose’s investigation for privacy reasons, but told Black Press Media that the institution is “deeply committed” to building a culture of consent.
“Sexual violence is never acceptable. UBC is deeply committed to building a culture of consent, where members of the university community have a safer, supportive and respectful environment in which to live, learn and work. Education and prevention are core components of the university’s work to address sexual violence on campus.”
Rose had later gone to the RCMP to report her assault. She was initially told by an RCMP officer that her story “wasn’t worth” the officer’s time. That officer is no longer with the Kelowna RCMP. A subsequent investigation resulted in a report being forwarded to Crown counsel for consideration of charges against the man.
As of Sept. 8, no charges had been laid. The man’s lawyer declined to comment on the matter.
With allegations of assault, there is a presumption of innocence unless and until there is a finding confirming the allegation, which has not occurred in this instance. Further, there has been no ruling by the Human Rights Tribunal, accepting the complaint respecting process, nor has there been a decision by crown counsel to prosecute the RA accused of sexual assault.
How sexual assault legislation paved way for dedicated investigators
In 2016, B.C. passed the Sexual Violence and Misconduct Policy Act, which established a framework for post-secondary institutions to develop sexual misconduct policies. As of May 19, 2017, all universities in B.C. were required to have sexual misconduct policies created and in place.
UBC’s Sexual Violence Prevention and Response Office was created in 2017 as part of the institution’s efforts to address sexual violence on campus.
According to annual reports, sexualized violence disclosures on the Okanagan campus increased from 37 in 2017-2018 to 114 in 2018-2019 to 136 from May 2019-April 2020.
In an emailed statement, UBCO attributed the rise in disclosures to “considerable efforts” that have been made to raise the profile of reporting sexual violence through on-campus education campaigns.
On Sept. 8, B.C. announced that a further $500,000 would go toward improving and expanding sexual violence prevention initiatives on campus.
These resources are being developed with the post-secondary sector and will be available across all campuses in the province by summer 2024.