“I would love to have more information on things that are happening on campus related to attacks and even minor incidents because then we at least are aware that these things are happening. Otherwise, there’s this blanket sense of security and a false one and we don’t actually know what’s happening on our campus. It’s important to me that we actually know the real things that are happening, not just speculation.” Jessica Lar-Son, 22.
Kwantlen Polytechnic University doesn’t keep track of how many sexual assaults have been reported on its campuses, according to internal records.
Although campus is meant to be a safe space, recent publicized sexual attacks like those at UBC have generated questions around whether or not universities are doing all they can to make sure students are protected while at school.
Records from 2008 to 2012 obtained through freedom of information laws show that KPU only tracks aggregate numbers, lumping in physical assaults with sexual ones.
The three categories from the reports are violence – physical, violence – verbal and violence – stalking. There is no other available information to the public regarding incidents of sexual assault or harassment on campus.
Catherine Dubé, KPU’s director of the Office of Student Risk and Judicial Affairs, stopped returning the Runner’s emails after repeated efforts to arrange an interview.
Head of Security, Harry McNeil says he knows about the issue and is pushing to rectify it. He envisions a future data collection system with options for better defining the type of assault or harassment.
“We should be able to bring up a list saying this is the number of sexual assaults on campus, this is the number of physical assaults or minor assaults and actually draw a chart out,” he says.
Previously, there was no universal reporting system for KPU security, so generating figures from the last five years is impossible. McNeil says the reports aren’t detailed enough for reliable statistics, since the old reports were handwritten, undetailed and inaccurate.
“I’m trying to change the culture of reporting so it’s factual and actual,” he says.
“We [KPU security] haven’t collected the data [in the past], but now we understand there is a necessity. We’re a long way from where we should be, but we’re leaps and bounds from where we were.”
In light of the recent string of sexual attacks occurring on the UBC’s Vancouver campus, sex and gender-based violence at Canadian universities is receiving more attention.
UBC has numerous resources posted on their security website including the Sexual Assault Support Centre, links to the Counselling Services and predominantly displayed safety tips. It has increased security patrols since the attacks, and promotes the AMS Safewalk program.
Conversely, Kwantlen does not outwardly offer such resources. However, Kwantlen Security has its own Safe Walk program, which provides escorted walks on the university’s four campuses. It is advertised only on their webpage and is used mostly by staff says McNeil.
Currently there are no advertised programs by the university to combat sexual violence and any services that are provided are through counselling and judicial affairs.
“The silence around an issue doesn’t mean the issue isn’t happening. It just means no one is talking about it,” says Kari Michaels, co-founder of Women Organizing Opportunities for Women (WOOW).
According to statistics provided by Fraser Health, only 10 per cent of sexual assaults on women are reported to the authorities.
“No one is getting the help they need and maybe looking elsewhere and not finding that community on campus which is not the university that we want to see,” says Michaels.
As Kwantlen’s feminist club and women’s collective, WOOW’s concern is that “the response the university takes is either victim blaming, or is just a Band-Aid sort of service.”
“We want to give you the help that you need on your terms,” Michaels says. WOOW is looking to implement a sexual health and awareness centre, and the Kwantlen Student Association recently approved a proposal for a peer support centre and the women’s group would like to see a sexual assault support centre along with it.
Providing support systems and offering awareness campaigns is another aspect of the solution to address the lack of resources available.
Starting in January, WOOW will run a campaign that helps identify abusive behaviour in the hopes that people saying or doing certain things will recognize that their conduct could possibly be seen as harmful or abusive.
“It’s one thing to identify victims and to tell victims, ‘This is where to go for help’” says Michaels. “It’s another thing to let people know that their behaviour is abusive and that they have a responsibility to stop.
If you see anything suspicious or feel unsafe on campus, please call security through their direct line service on pay phones, call boxes or red phones located around all four campuses.
Originally published in The Runner