While countless cases become public, many survivors of campus sexual assault still fight for closure outside the spotlight.
Stephanie Hale is one of a growing number of students challenging the process she had to undergo after reporting her sexual assault on a university campus.
A jury of your peers.
When Hale first disclosed her sexual assault by a fellow University of British Columbia (UBC) student in January of 2013, she went to her residence advisor for guidance.
It was not until February of 2016 that she was directed to the Non-Academic Misconduct Process, the school’s then-procedure for addressing “non-academic discipline.”
Between her disclosure and her committee meeting, she continued to see her attacker on campus and in classes.
The process included a panel of students overseen by a faculty member, who would review infractions and decide whether a sexual assault occurred. Between her disclosure and her committee meeting, Hale continued to see her attacker on campus and in classes.
In May of 2017, this process was revoked in favour of Policy 131, which includes independent, trauma informed investigators and a timeline to address complaints.
Despite leaving UBC, Hale continues to fight through her traumatizing reporting experience. Last August, she filed a human rights complaint against UBC. Hale’s complaint focuses on the university’s failure to direct her to relevant school policy. She also cites the damaging effect of the peer-driven trial process.
The university has responded, stating that the University of British Columbia Okanagan “denies that it breached the [Human Rights Code] as alleged in the Complaint or at all.”
The case is currently under review by the BC Human Rights Tribunal. If it chooses to accept the complaint, the parties can agree to a settlement or proceed to a hearing.
The balance of power.
For Hale, filing the complaint offers her the opportunity for closure in a more meaningful way than civil action. “The tribunal has the power to order UBC to make changes in their own policies. When I considered [a lawsuit], the only thing I could really get out of that was money, and that’s not what I want. I want to see things change.”
However, the road to creating new policy proves time and again to be filled with challenges.
“Universities are worried about what they look like. I think that’s ultimately what it comes down to.”
Lucia Lorenzi is one of the scholars on the expert panel that advised on UBC’s new policy.“I think there’s always a reluctance to change,” shared Lorenzi. “Ultimately I think it comes down to universities being worried about what they look like, and what corporations and alumni and prospective students will think about the campus.”
The temptation to airbrush a school’s image can be a difficult one to dismiss, particularly when assault statistics can determine enrolment and profit.
Over a year after the implementation of Policy 131, and cases continue to emerge that highlight the need for continuous policy development. The responsibility often falls on students to keep talking about these issues once the spotlight is gone, and to challenge universities to examine outdated and ineffective legislation through systems like the Human Rights Code.
Amidst the history of silence at many post-secondary institutions, there now lies an opportunity to open up an important dialogue.
“I wish for no future victim to go through what I have had to go through…”
It’s heartbreaking that this change follows the desolation of so many lives through sexual violence. However, there is also a capacity to create definitive change. “My wish is for no future victim to go through what I have had to go through in advocating for myself,” said Hale. “I wish for UBC to have an appropriate system for dealing with this type of crime in the future,” she concludes. “I wish for rape to end.”
If you have been sexually assaulted and need help, make use of these resources now for immediate, free and confidential crisis support.
We also have a comprehensive guide on reporting sexual assault.
24-Hour Crisis Line: 604-255-6344 or toll free 1-877-392-7583
*Opinions expressed are those of the author, and not necessarily those of Student Life Network or their partners.