[A previous version of this article implied the VIU Students’ Union does not offer resources to students who have experienced instances of sexual misconduct. The updated version (published October 27, 2022) provides clarity on the subject.]
When I was younger, I was afraid of the dark.
I was a timid kid, night light on and my bedroom door wide open.
I believed there were monsters hiding in the walls, the boogeyman under my bed, and the only escape: the comfort of my mother’s embrace.
But I’m not a kid anymore.
The monsters I thought hid in my room are now disguised as my roommate’s boyfriend, the person I sit next to in class, or the friendly stranger at the campus pub.
I’m in university and I’m more scared of the dark than ever before.
And I never used to question it. The innate fear of walking to my car after my night class, the funny feeling I’d get in my stomach when I was at a university party—I was used to it.
I thought it was normal to be afraid.
Then, there was a mass drugging and sexual assault at Western University last September. A month later, reports came out that a man sexually assaulted a University of Saskatchewan student with a weapon.
These incidents made it extremely clear to me that being afraid shouldn’t be the default.
And the university that I give thousands of dollars to? They need to protect me.
I should be thoroughly aware of the resources that are in place for sexual misconduct on campus and I should have enough faith in the policy and procedure to report an incident.
But unfortunately, that’s doesn’t seem to be the case at most universities, including VIU.
As reported by Statistics Canada, 71 percent of Canadian post-secondary students have “witnessed or experienced” non-consensual sexual behaviours in a post-secondary environment.
It wasn’t until 2016 that the provincial government passed the BC Sexual Violence and Misconduct Policy Act, which required universities to adopt a sexual misconduct policy and procedure.
VIU had their policy finalized and accepted May 12, 2017, with a review scheduled every three years. However, the BC Ministry of Public Safety is currently updating the language and the legislation of the act, meaning no post-secondary institutions will be reviewing their policies for at least another year.
VIU’s Sexual Misconduct Policy and Procedure is found on the university website. But without any prior knowledge, I’m not sure I would have known it existed.
I asked several VIU students if they were aware of the policy and procedure.
“No, I had no idea that even existed,” fourth-year student Paige Lum said.
Olivia Wright, who was also unaware of the policy and procedure, said that it’s never been explicitly mentioned by VIU faculty.
To not know about the policy is one thing, but not knowing who or where to report an incident to is another.
“I would maybe assume they have an office in the Students’ Union?” questioned Cassie Balcombe, a third-year business student.
I also questioned if the VIU Students’ Union (VIUSU) would be a place a student could report an incident of sexual misconduct. So, I spoke to Cole Reinbold, Director of External Relations at VIUSU.
I asked Reinbold: If someone were to report an incident to VIUSU, what would happen?
Reinbold directed me to Sarah Segal, the Students’ Advocate at the Union as someone students can speak to.
I contacted Segal, and although she doesn’t work specifically with cases and reports, Segal remains a resource for students regarding sexual misconduct and can point students towards the university’s supports or possible legal options.
Reporting sexual misconduct cases is often an issue for university students.
Sexual violence is the most underreported crime in Canada, with six percent of cases reported to police. In a university setting, roughly the same percentage said they would report to someone aligned with the school, some citing “a lack of knowledge about what to do or a mistrust in how the school would handle the situation.”
“I would go to the police or my closest friends before I’d report to the university,” said Lum.
Students are just as hesitant to disclose incidents to their university as they are to talk to the police. Universities are supposed to feel safer than this.
I asked Reinbold about the overall sense of student safety at VIU.
“There is safety and security, but not a lot of knowledge on where to go,” she said.
VIUSU held several events for their own Consent Week from September 12–15. Reinbold was part of the “Cotton Candy & Consent” event.
“The student turnout was absolutely incredible; there was a lot of curiosity about the topic,” she said.
VIU also led some initiatives for the national Consent Awareness Week, which was September 19–23. This included a blog post on consent, spreading awareness through their social media platform, and setting up a booth outside the library for “#WeBelieveYouDay” on September 20.
But a blog post and a booth one week out of the year isn’t going to change the larger issue at hand: students are still unaware of even the first step of reporting.
As Reinbold put it, “Let’s not push it under the rug—let’s do a dry clean.”
Irlanda Price is the Associate Vice President of Student Affairs and the Co-executive owner of VIU’s Sexual Misconduct Policy. She gave me a brief overview of how a report begins:
If a student were to disclose an incident of sexual misconduct they would be directed to the Diversity, Equity and Human Rights Office. After a formal report is filed there, it gets transferred to Student Affairs for the follow-up process.
The process is laid out in a 13-page PDF document. An intimidating look when a student just wants to know what’s going to happen if they report.
Price spoke a lot about “work[ing] with the student to support them through the process” but I left the interview still confused on what this process actually looks like from a victim stand point.
The overall sense I’m getting from students is that no one knows the first step and no one knows what’s going to happen to them if they do report.
“I am unaware of any sexual misconduct policy and no idea where I’d go to report it,” Hanna Wheeler, a student at the VIU Cowichan campus said.
A survey from VIU was sent out to students in February 2022 about their perception of sexual violence on campus. Price said the feedback was very similar to what I’ve found during my investigation—students don’t know where to go when they wish to report an incident.
It’s not enough.
“That’s telling us that we have a lot of work to do,” Price said, addressing the survey.
VIU Student Residences is another vulnerable place on campus.
Reinbold is also a Community Leader (CL) at Residences. She mentioned that CL’s have to undergo training to deal with someone revealing an incident of sexual misconduct. However, students can choose to either disclose or report. If no report happens, it doesn’t go much further than that.
“It’s entirely situation-dependent,” Student Residences’ Assistant Manager Mike Bauche said, explaining that if someone were to report, Residence would just follow the VIU Policy and Procedure.
Of course each case is different, but there should be clarity on what happens if sexual misconduct is reported on Residences.
“Residence is probably safer than other places due to the extra resources for students, including 24/7 staff, CL leaders on floors, etc.,” Bauche said.
But students living on residence are not required to take any sort of consent or sexual misconduct training. The only training available is within the optional orientation package, which costs each student $250. The training itself is also optional.
“Only around 200 students attend orientation, and how many students actually went to that training session [is] probably around 60. We do offer it, but there’s a paywall,” Reinbold said.
There shouldn’t be a price tag on student safety.
Knowledge is power, so where’s ours? We’re cowering in the unknown with only a poster on a bathroom stall to give us information on consent.
VIU does have some sexual violence education and prevention activities planned for the 2022/2023 school year, including student and staff training through BCcampus Open Education, more training for student leaders, and various sexual health workshops.
But as we’ve established, students have no idea these plans exist. And there is nothing mandatory for general students and staff.
Western University just implemented mandatory online training for incoming students. Their 45-minute course includes information on consent, personal safety, and what constitutes sexual misconduct. If you live in residence at Western, there’s now a mandatory 90-minute in-person course.
This is what the VIU students I spoke to want.
“It would be helpful to hold a mandatory seminar at the beginning of the semester,” Wheeler said.
Reinbold had a brilliant idea about not allowing access to learning platforms until training is completed.
“I think before you get full access to D2L (VIU Learn), you should be blocked until you take a mandatory course on sexual misconduct,” she said.
Mandatory training on sexual misconduct for both students and staff can ensure awareness and highlight resources that are being missed.
Price said that VIU is looking into this, but there is no set date in place.
Most importantly, students just want to talk about it.
We’re all grown up now.
No longer can we slip into our parents arms and close our eyes. The monsters are staring right at us and we can either keep running away or demand protection.
As a university student, I want to know exactly what’s in place to support me. I want to know exactly where to go and who to talk to. I want my peers and I to be so sure on what sexual misconduct is that we’re no longer afraid of the dark.
Because at the end of the day, as Price put it,
“If a student isn’t feeling safe on our campus, we aren’t doing our job.”
If you are part of the VIU community and have experienced or been accused of sexual misconduct, here is some information on the procedures in place.