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Campus Sexual Assault and the Disappearance of Statistics

It is the start of another academic year, and already the perennial tragedies of campus sexual assault have begun to make news in Canada. A former jazz professor at University of Manitoba has left the University some months ago under, what appears to be, a cloud of sexual misconduct allegations. According to John Danakas, U of M executive director of public affairs, the "institution’s respectful work and learning environment policy and its sexual-assault policy" require that "the university cannot confirm whether a complaint has been made nor whether it is investigating a staff member, in order to protect confidentiality for all parties."

Additionally, breaking news is surfacing that the University of British Columbia is facing a second sexual assault complaint through the human rights tribunal process. A sexual assault survivor is alleging that the University failed to take appropriate action "after she reported a sexual assault, leading her to struggle in class and take medical leave".

The news on campus sexual assault betrays a chronic and universal dilemma. The problem of campus sexual assault in a well substantiated offence, and Canadian universities have faced their share of media-reported cases of sexual assaults, misconduct and misogyny. However, official university statistics demonstrate the absence of any problem at all.

Some Manitoba Universities have acted swiftly to news reports about campus sexual violence and have enacted more fulsome policy documents to try to stem the ongoing threats of campus sexual violence. The University of Winnipeg, in 2015 launched a series of workshops on sexual assault and consent when between "2009 to 2013, seven sexual assaults were reported to the University of Winnipeg". In 2016, the University of Manitoba released a "new set of guidelines designed to keep students and staff safe while providing support to those who have been assaulted on campus". Brandon University has stopped asking survivors of sexual assault to sign confidentiality documents and has now hired a "full-time social worker and therapist to co-ordinate a sexual violence prevention program."

Recently, University of Manitoba President, David Barnard, issued a missive explaining the institution's commitment to student safety. Touting the University's stand-alone sexual assault policy, President Barnard argues that the policies are "responsive to the needs of our community...The policies have been tested, and they work". The missive, after touting the efficacy of the policies a second time, calls for "safety, inclusion and respect" at the University.

The Manitoba flurry of drafting is a repeating one across Canada, where new policies, committees, documents, and consultations abound in an attempt to address the social problem of campus sexual violence. The numbers of incidences, though, continue to be discouraging. CBC conducted a review of reported cases of sexual assault on campuses for a multi-year period and found some discouraging results:

Over the multi-year period, an implausibly low amount of reported complaints manifested on Canada's campuses. For example, University of Ottawa despite hosting almost 40,000 students only had 10 reported sexual assault allegations. The Universities of Winnipeg, Manitoba and Brandon reported 7, 8 and 0 instances respectively. Red River College also reported 0 incidents.

The results suggest a Canada wide epidemic of under-reporting of sexual assault on Canada's campuses. The 2014 General Social Survey (GSS) on victimization shows "about 22 sexual assaults for every 1,000 Canadians aged 15 or older in 2014" . Compared to the CBC data above, the rate of sexual assault in Canada is 220 per 10,000 people. The absurdly low incidence rate on campuses that CBC compiled demonstrates that Canada's post-secondary institutions simply are not processing the occurrences accurately.

Statistics Canada provides a helpful page on statistics of sexual assault in Canada:

The overwhelming evidence points to a chilling reality. The vast majority of campus sexual assaults and misconduct-related activities remain disturbingly undiscovered. The vast majority of those affect women and sexual minorities on campus. Amelioration of social conditions is an improbable task in the absence of identification of wrongdoing. Sexual violence policies on Canadian campuses, despite University Administration's claims that they are working, will not be effective, absent a concerted and protracted set of community responses. It is up to all members of the University community to build a culture that is inhospitable to acts of sexual assault and misconduct, and to create a climate where reporting such instances is supported, safe, clear, relatively easy and not life altering for survivors. A space bearing these hallmarks would capture more accurate statistics and give us the actual picture about the campus sexual assault matrix. In the absence of clear reporting and incipient support, Universities bear the burden of demonstrating that the on-campus culture is not sullied by sexual violence and an institutional desire to limit exposure to litigation and human rights complaints. Universities bear the burden of demonstrating that the on-campus social climate does not support rape culture.

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