The University of British Columbia must make extensive changes over how it responds to sexual assault if it wants to counter campus "mistrust" of the way complaints are handled, says a report from a university panel that is being released Monday.
Among the ambitious recommendations made in the 52-page report are the creation of an independent centre that can help survivors find help, a simplified complaint process that spares those who come forward from having to tell their story to several people and a third-party reporting system that would allow anonymous reporting.
"We wanted to do something that is more about transformation," said Sarah Hunt, a member of the panel and an assistant professor in the First Nations and Indigenous Studies Program.
"It's not just about UBC; this is a societal issue – we think it's time that the university reflect that in the approach that they are taking," she said.
The six-member panel – made up of five faculty members and a PhD student – was appointed as part of UBC's response to questions about how it deals with allegations of sexual assault.
This past winter, a report into how the school resolved multiple complaints about a graduate student in the history department found that delays and unclear processes left the women who came forward confused and frustrated.
"We need to really make sure that we are hearing all the voices that need to be heard and that we come up with a strong sexual-assault policy that will serve the university well, and will not need to be immediately amended because it is not doing what it needs to do," said panel chair Janine Benedet, a law professor and co-director of the Centre for Feminist Legal Studies at the Allard School of Law.
Universities across the country are revising guidelines on how they respond to sexual assault on campus.
Provincial governments in B.C. and Ontario expect all postsecondary institutions to have specific policies in place by the end of this academic year.
Because each university is drafting its own code, there are differences between schools in how students can report incidents and what kind of disciplinary measures are taken.
UBC is currently holding consultations on a new set of procedures that will govern what happens when a student comes forward to say they have been assaulted.
The campus community does not believe the university is taking reports of sexual assault seriously, says the report, a copy of which was obtained by The Globe and Mail.
"Over and over again in the consultations, we heard people reflecting that they did not trust us because we were representing the university," Dr. Hunt said. "They did not trust that we would take this seriously in the ways that they want it to be."
One of the recommendations made by the panel is for UBC to adopt disciplinary processes that avoid the confrontational nature of the criminal system.
When a complaint is made and investigated, it "should not be presumed that the person making the allegation is lying, or that they must be questioned with an air of skepticism," the report says.
"Education … is not something that would fit every situation, but we are opening up the options that allow for survivors to go through a process that actually addresses their needs," she said.
Their findings are urgent, the panel authors write. Over the past decade, it appears that only one allegation of sexual assault has been resolved through a disciplinary process, the report found. In the future, the university should report the number of disclosures and reports it receives.
As well as community consultations, the report polled 50 individuals and received 40 e-mail submissions.
The panel was appointed by former UBC interim president Martha Piper.