Few sex assaults reported on UNBC, CNC campuses

Prince George's two post-secondary institutions reported low - and no - sexual assaults on their campuses over a five-year period.

Neither has a sexual assault policy, although UNBC struck presidential task force on sexual violence in 2014, and is preparing recommendations.

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The College of New Caledonia referred the Citizen to its Standards of Conduct Policy that deals with student responsibility and accountability, and said it offers services to victims through its counselling department.

University of Northern B.C. had one assault on record, in 2013, which was published in response to CBC's look at campus assaults across Canada in early February. The CBC's study looked at campus reporting between 2009 and 2013, and argued the low numbers suggest campuses are "doing a poor job of encouraging students to come forward."

The College of New Caledonia reported no incidents of sexual assaults in the same time frame.

The low numbers weren't surprising to students and workers at either institution, given the widespread reluctance of victims to come forward. According to a 2004 Statistics Canada survey, only one in 10 sexual assaults are reported to police, making its prevalence in Canadian society - and campuses - difficult to quantify.

"It's just the tip of the iceberg that's usually reported," said Sarah Boyd, part-time coordinator of the women's centre at UNBC.

The centre is active on campus working on issues of consent, going to events like Take Back the Night and providing a daily safe space for victims - which she noted are disproportionately high among aboriginal women, people with disabilities and transgender people.

Boyd also sits on the task force committee and said the university needs a plan, which the recommendations, when produced, should help create.

"That doesn't mean that we're not doing work to prevent violence," Boyd said, adding campus security has been an important ally for the centre.

"It needs to be a campus wide collaboration and working together on developing a plan, protocols, that kind of thing," said Boyd, who stressed she didn't speak for UNBC, and that the centre is a non-profit that comes under the umbrella of the student union.

Sarah Elliott, UNBC's manager of security and risk said the task force's mandate is to make recommendations and suggest educational strategies to address sexual violence.

She said addressing the issue isn't entirely new for the university and that "sexualized violence is embedded in a number of policies pertaining to prohibited behavior such as violence, harassment and of course the student conduct code."

Elliott echoed Boyd's comment regarding the troubling reluctance for victims to report is a society-wide problem, but added confidentiality of the victims is paramount.

"This is more important than the avenue through which they choose to make the reports so therefore the collecting of stats should be secondary to the provision of adequate care and support," said Elliott in an email response.

But it's important not to focus too much on campuses, or one location, Boyd said.

"How do we account for students who may be violated by their partners off campus and then they come up on campus and they have a class together?," she asked. "I have some issues with creating numbers for the university separate from what is happening in the community because there's definitely some grey area there."

More focus, too, needs to address perpetrators of violence rather than simply the victims.

The majority of student complaints the centre received related to harassment and stalking, Boyd said. Most of the time the centre hears about assaults well after the fact. The centre serves between 20 and 30 women a day.

The Statistics Canada survey found the vast majority of offences were "less severe forms" of sexual assault, including unwanted touching, while sexual attacks occurred one out of five times. Victimization rates were much higher in the 15 to 24 age range and the vast majority - 80 per cent in 2002 - knew the accused.

In Prince George, by November, the RCMP already had 1,000 incidents reported to its domestic violence unit, 60 per cent of which were not necessarily criminal in nature.

Eric Depenau, chairperson of the CNC's student union said his group is active on campus with educational handouts, workshops and campaigns like 'no means no,' supported by the Canadian Federation of Students.

Depenau said the union acts as an informal peer support network and also works with the counselling department. Last week it had consent and healthy relationships leading up to Valentines day.

"Those were done jointly, so it was an initiative brought on by counselling and they knew that we were very vocal on these points," said Depenau, adding they also do refer students for help to counselling.

"The campus and college admin does try to reach out to people to make their services known," said Depenau,

"We know that a lot of the issues like that aren't reported"

The college referred Jim Hoyer, its facilities director, to speak on the issue of reporting.

"We would handle this complaint no different than we would any other serious complaint that came to us," said Hoyer, adding if it were in criminal in nature the college would immediately bring in the RCMP to investigate.

Hoyer couldn't speak to policies or any initiatives on campus, which he said would mostly likely be organized through counselling. The counselling department wasn't available for comment during the Canada Winter Games break.

"I wouldn't say there's necessarily a gap (in policy) but could we always look at our processes and procedures for improvement as time goes on," Hoyer said. "I think it certainly would be a living item that would have to be referred to for revisement.

Regarding an absence of policy, Depenau said there's always room for improvement.

"I think if there's room for a policy to be made or for some initiative to be taken on for it to be more accountable and open to people so they feel comfortable reporting and the right results are happening, then absolutely."

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