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Stephanie Hale, a University of British Columbia student, poses for a picture near her Kamloops B.C. home on October 18, 2016. She is questioning how the university handled a sexual assault she experienced from a fellow student. (Jeff Bassett for the Globe and Mail)

Jeff Bassett/The Globe and Mail

Stephanie Hale was halfway through her first year in engineering at the University of British Columbia's Okanagan campus when she went to a party with a friend in the middle of January, 2013. She had asked the friend, a male student she had met at the beginning of the semester and with whom she had classes, to look after her if she drank too much.

How the university responded to what happened next appears to be a textbook example of why sexual assault survivors on Canadian postsecondary campuses have grown increasingly vocal about how their schools are failing them.

"The assault has taken the core of my world and blown it up," Ms. Hale said in an interview.

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B.C., Ontario and Alberta have asked their universities to put in place guidelines for dealing with sexual assault within the next year, and other provinces are likely to follow suit. In response, UBC – like many other universities across the country – is reviewing and revising its policies.

Eearlier: UBC extending consultations on new sex-assault policy

UBC declined to comment on Ms. Hale's case, citing privacy laws, but said in a statement that the university, including new president Santa Ono, is "directly engaged on the issue of sexual assault" and makes the safety of its students its "No. 1 priority."

However, as her story makes clear, new policies will have to contain many changes if they are to meet survivors' demands for their needs to become central to university processes.

According to a three-page statement Ms. Hale wrote a week after that January party to give to police, and that was provided to The Globe and Mail, she woke up late that evening in her friend's bed. She was still drunk and was making out with him. Her memory of the rest of the night is fragmented, but Ms. Hale says the two had sex. She was much too drunk to have consented, she wrote in her statement. (Under Canadian law, consent to sexual activity is not possible when a person is "incapable" of giving it.) Over the course of the friendship, and even earlier that evening, she had made it clear that she was not interested in a romantic relationship.

She also wrote that she remembers the man repeatedly striking her across the face and choking her, leaving her gasping for air.

Less than two weeks after the incident, Ms. Hale reported it to the police. No charges resulted – she has recently launched a complaint with the RCMP about how the matter was handled. The RCMP declined to comment.

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In the weeks and months that followed, Ms. Hale tried to regain her confidence and keep up with her classes. She met with counsellors on campus, tried mental health strategies to help her cope with sleeplessness and anxiety, and painted to channel her emotions.

"I reported what happened to three or four different departments and no department said this should be [followed up]. And I kept seeing my attacker on campus."

In several appointments with counsellors and nurses at the university's health and wellness services, no one told her that she could make a complaint under the school's student code of conduct, even as one of her visits was recorded as "alleged sexual assault."

In the days after the incident, she was told she could go to the police if she wanted to file a report. But when she said she was uncertain if she wanted to press charges, no other options were offered.

If she did not want to work with the man in a group project, she was advised to ask the instructor to split them up. The university said it is looking to expand training, education and awareness about sexual assault as part of its review.

Confusion about what happens when a student reveals an assault is common, said Farrah Khan, the co-ordinator of sexual violence, education and support at Ryerson University.

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"People feel institutional betrayal because they don't understand what the process was," said Ms. Khan, who is a long-time advocate for survivors of sexual assault. "Too often, when someone discloses … the survivors might think, 'I am telling someone; they are going to do something.' But I don't report it unless they tell me that they want that."

In Ms. Hale's case, it was only two years later, when she brought an incident of sexual harassment to the dean of engineering and also revealed her earlier assault, that she was told she could pursue her complaint through the university's non-academic discipline process for students.

A hearing was eventually scheduled into her alleged assault.

In 2015, Ms. Hale had begun to experience new emotional problems. A counsellor attributed them to PTSD from the alleged 2013 attack.

Delays in scheduling the hearing and in some of the ways it appeared to be proceeding further contributed to her stress, Ms. Hale wrote in a letter to Dr. Ono, the university's new president, this past summer.

One of her major concerns was that a panel made up mainly of fellow students would hear and judge her story.

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"She is facing having her case handled by people who don't have any particular expertise in sexual assault and harassment matters and she is facing being questioned by those people in ways that may be harmful to her," said Clea Parfitt, the lawyer now representing Ms. Hale.

A UBC task force has recommended the university consider appointing an independent investigator in cases of assault and harassment, something Ms. Hale would also prefer.

The university suggested it is considering that.

"While we cannot be definitive about what the new process will look like until we've completed the ongoing consultation and heard from all, we have made a commitment to incorporate that feedback into the new policy with the view to making fundamental change," said Susan Danard, a UBC spokesperson.

Under the university's current procedures, once the panel makes a decision – which could include expelling the offender – the complainant does not know the outcome of the case. That offers no closure, Ms. Parfitt said.

For Ms. Hale, closure will be a long time coming. When a student on the panel fell ill, the hearing scheduled for September was cancelled with one day's notice. A new date is being negotiated.

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But the sudden cancellation made Ms. Hale decide to speak out, she said. "I'm comfortable with being public. It's about me saying I'm bigger than this."

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