This article contains mentions of sexual assault. Olivia’s name has been changed to protect her identity.
Olivia picked up her phone early on a Monday morning last November to call her friend to recount the events of the night before. She was confused, with hazy memories of her night out.
She vaguely remembered having sex.
“‘[Olivia], you were sexually assaulted,’” her friend said on the other line when she finished recounting the events of the night before.
It felt like a shock to her system. Olivia almost didn’t believe it at first, but slowly, she realized what she was describing was not sex. Olivia had been assaulted the night before.
It was supposed to be a fun night.
Three of Olivia’s colleagues came over to her place before they went out.
The group of coworkers had been working together for a year, and Olivia was slowly becoming friends with one of her colleagues, Peter. Olivia called him Peter in an interview with The Ubyssey, but that’s not his real name.
They pre-gamed at her apartment, and music, conversation and drinks set the tone for a fun night out. Olivia felt the excitement of coworkers turning to friends, bringing new social pressures with the changing relationships.
“Myself, Peter and the third male coworker had been having a lot to drink, more than I would usually,” said Olivia. “Having these guys in my space I think I felt this desire to keep up and seem fun and maintain this fun coworker to personal relationship kind of transition that was happening.”
Later that night, in the dark but busy Kitsilano bar, top 40 hits streamed from the dance floor and Olivia was having a great time. The bar was teeming with other UBC students since a club was using the bar as a venue that night.
“At one point [Peter] starts holding my hand and taking me to the bar to buy more drinks,” said Olivia.
She didn’t think much of it at the time. After all, they were friends.
As the night wound down, Olivia and Peter decided to take an Uber home together since they lived in the same neighbourhood. As they waited for the Uber, Olivia impulsively turned to Peter and said, “You know we’re not having sex when we get back to my place, right?”
She didn’t know why she felt the need to tell Peter. Everything seemed normal, they talked the entire way home.
They walked up the stairs to her apartment, and as Olivia put her key in the door, she turned around and said again, “We’re not having sex in there.”
The next thing she knew, they were in her bedroom. “I just remember feeling extremely confused,” Olivia said. “I was kind of laying there, these things are happening. I don’t really know what’s going on.”
Olivia doesn’t remember much of what happened, but she remembers saying ‘no.’
“I can vividly remember telling him twice that I didn’t want this to happen, and I’m just so drunk; laying there in my own home at the mercy of whatever he’s doing to me,” said Olivia.
Unfortunately, Olivia’s experience is not unique. 2021 saw an 18 per cent rise in cases of police-reported sexual misconduct in Canada, which was the highest rate since 1996. Many survivors of assault do not report incidents to law enforcement. In fact, a 2014 study estimated that 83 per cent of assaults are not reported to law enforcement. According to the Government of Canada, in 2014, 52 per cent of people who were assaulted that year knew their assailant beforehand.
The 2022 AMS Academic Experience Survey reported that one in five UBC students has experienced sexual assault or misconduct during their time at UBC. This statistic increased from one in seven students in 2019.
Olivia is among the one in five.
What does UBC do for the one in five?
Policy SC17 is UBC’s standalone sexual misconduct policy, which defines sexual misconduct as “any sexual act or act targeting an individual’s sexuality, gender identity or gender expression, whether the act is physical or psychological in nature, that is committed, threatened, or attempted against an individual without that individual’s Consent.”
This definition includes sexual assault, sexual harassment, stalking and cyberstalking, indecent exposure, voyeurism and the distribution of sexually explicit material.
Policy SC17 and the UBC Investigations Office (IO) — the body responsible for investigating alleged breaches of Policy SC17 between members of the UBC community — were only established in 2017.
In May 2016, the BC Legislature’s Bill 23 mandated that BC post-secondary institutions create a standalone sexual misconduct policy in the span of a year.
But, it wasn’t just a mandate that made UBC create Policy SC17, formerly known as Policy 131; it was UBC’s mishandling of a string of sexual misconduct allegations and a human rights complaint about former UBC PhD student Dmitry Mordvinov and several other complaints.
This string of assaults was first publicized by CBC’s The Fifth Estate in November 2015. After The Fifth Estate broke the story, UBC apologized and conducted an independent review, and then initiated the creation of a sexual misconduct policy.
The independent review found UBC policies unclear on how students can report sexual misconduct. According to Board of Governors (BoG) documents from 2015, only 6 of 273 sexual misconduct reports had been investigated.
In April 2017, the BoG approved Policy 131, “Sexual Assault and Other Sexual Misconduct.” This created the IO and Sexual Violence Prevention and Response Office (SVPRO) — both services that Olivia would access four years later.
According to its website, the SVPRO is a “confidential place for those who have experienced, or been impacted by, any form of sexual or gender-based violence, harassment, or harm.”
The SVPRO can help survivors who disclose their sexual assault by filing a police report or a report with the IO, get academic concessions and help with alternative housing and finances. The SVPRO is essentially the physical embodiment of SC17 and the provincial mandate.
“We recognize that people have experienced great harm at the hands of institutions and systems and we want to be on the side of the person who is looking to explore alternatives, whether it's to healing or justice, or anything else,” said Alicia Oeser, SVPRO's director, in an interview with The Ubyssey in February.
After Olivia called her friend, she called SVPRO and the next day walked into their offices for the first time.
The day after, she went to UBC Hospital alone to complete a sexual assault evidence kit (SAEK), also known as a rape kit — a standardized method of evidence collection. SVPRO had offered to arrange for someone to go with her, but she wanted to go alone. She had her blood taken and took Plan B and other preventative STI pills, as is the standard procedure when treating sexual assault.
UBC Hospital's Urgent Care is one of two hospitals that offer sexual assault services in Vancouver, along with Vancouver General's Emergency Department. These hospitals offer treatment of injuries and STIs, forensic sample collection, referrals to support services and can issue medical reports to police. According to 2016 Vice coverage, BC holds the SAEK for six months to a year.
“I really just wanted to feel like I had all of my bases covered for my own closure and clarity on the situation as much as possible,” said Olivia.
After meeting with her support worker at the SVPRO, Olivia decided to file a report with the IO a week after her assault. Under SC17, complainants have a right to pursue other legal action external to UBC, like filing a police report, in addition to a complaint to the IO.
Fifty-five reports of sexual misconduct were made to the IO during the 2020/21 academic year. This is an 83 per cent increase from 30 reports in the 2019/20 academic year.
Olivia submitted her report a week after her assault and was told she would have an investigator within two weeks. Two weeks after filing her report, the IO told her they needed more time to get her an investigator.
Five weeks after she filed the report, on January 7, Olivia was assigned an investigator. The IO told her the delay was due to winter holiday breaks. Olivia met with her investigator and support worker from SVPRO to discuss her options — an investigation or an alternative resolution process (ARP).
According to IO Director Carly Stanhope’s statement to The Ubyssey, “investigations and alternative resolution processes are fundamentally different in terms of process and outcome.”
In an investigation, an investigator must collect and assess evidence to determine if SC17 was breached. If SC17 was breached, the investigation findings are forwarded to “the appropriate decision maker to determine what discipline is appropriate,” wrote Stanhope.
Stanhope also said that investigations ensure that the voices of the complainant and respondent are heard before making a decision.
“While it is always difficult for parties to discuss intimate and traumatic events, this is necessary to ensure fairness," said Stanhope. "UBC has a responsibility to fully and fairly investigate complaints before imposing discipline on a community member."
If students do not want to pursue an investigation, they can participate in restorative justice circles, Indigenous peacemaking circles and “various forms of mediation” — all of which are considered part of the IO’s ARP.
According to the IO’s website, ARP serves to build accountability and engage a complainant and respondent to engage in community repair. ARPs can include facilitated discussions, admissions of harm and agreements which outline how the complainant and respondent will interact for the remainder of their time at UBC. ARP processes vary on the type of ARP they choose to participate in.
Stanhope said the goals of ARPs differ depending on the form, but the process strives to ensure “parties feel heard and understood” while “inspiring accountability and change within the community.”
However, ARPs are not available for every complainant. According to Stanhope, factors like the safety and wellbeing of parties, an employment relationship with UBC and power imbalances can lead to a complainant not being able to undergo an ARP.
Olivia decided to undergo an ARP. To complete an ARP, Olivia and Peter — known in the policy as the complainant and respondent, respectively — must both be willing participants in the process.
“It was just important for me to produce something that is the tangible outcome and resolution to this,” Olivia said. “This is what I can actually hold in my hand, actually read with my two eyes, it’s not my blurry recollection of what happened or a story that I told a friend.”
If either party decides to withdraw from the process or if the respondent does not respond to the investigator reaching out to complete the ARP, the report could turn into an investigation with the consent of the complainant. If a complainant undergoes an ARP, the respondent will not face institutional repercussions.
When asked how many reports have been withdrawn from investigation and how many ARPs have gone to become investigations since January 2018, Stanhope said the IO does not keep track of these numbers.
“I wasn’t interested in filing [an investigation], at least from the get go. I did really want to have that reconciliation piece and have an opportunity to chat with this person … I felt very unsettled by these actions of this person that I would have considered a friend,” said Olivia.
Policy in practice
For Olivia, her ARP consisted of an agreement Peter would sign and questions she planned to ask him during a Zoom meeting organized by the IO. Typically, the investigator drafts an agreement during the ARP meeting, resulting in it being signed after the meeting, but Olivia wanted to write the agreement herself and have it ready beforehand.
Olivia’s proposed outcome agreement for the ARP included sexual misconduct training for Peter and a handwritten letter which would include a summary of learning, a summary of actions to end sexual misconduct, an acknowledgment of harm and an apology. The agreement also included work, school and personal arrangements for Olivia and Peter.
On February 1, 2022, three months after that November night out, Olivia opened her laptop and clicked on a Zoom link. This link would take her face-to-face with Peter for the first time in months.
It was early in the morning, too early to be crying her eyes out on Zoom. “But, it’s just what life had in store for me that day,” said Olivia.
As the meeting started, Olivia and Peter were told boundaries for the meeting, outlined by the investigator. Then, Olivia had the floor.
“I spoke … and I was emotional about it, as I should be,” she said. “That was my 15 minutes to say what had been on my mind for three months and will continue to be on my mind for the rest of my life … I wanted to do justice to myself in those 15 minutes.”
Olivia was confused the night of her assault. And she wanted answers.
Did you have any assumptions leading up to the night?
Did you feel like your choices weren’t a good idea? Did you feel off about anything? If yes, why did you continue?
Did our interaction resemble a typical sexual interaction for you? If yes, do you feel good about that? If not, how was ours different?
Olivia finally got answers to the questions which had been circling her mind for three months. But her experience with the IO didn’t bring her answers easily. Olivia said she needed to advocate for herself throughout the process. Olivia said her investigator tended to generalize sexual assault survivors as “one size fits all.”
“I think that it was clear that [my investigator] had had experience with survivors with … similar experiences and I felt as though I didn’t necessarily fit that model,” said Olivia. “... When it involves two autonomous, individual, complex people coming together to reach a resolution, there is no one size fits all.”
Section 1.4 of Policy SC17 states, “UBC is committed to reducing barriers to Disclosing and Reporting, and to taking a Trauma-informed Approach when responding to and addressing Disclosures and Reports, and when conducting Investigations.”
Stanhope said investigators must have experience and training in trauma-informed investigations before being hired at the IO. She also said investigators must attend professional development of trauma-informed practice, including programs by Courage to Act, the Canadian Bar Association and others. To ensure investigators are trauma-informed, Stanhope meets with them regularly during an investigation process.
But despite this training, Olivia had instances where she felt like her needs were not being met by her investigator.
When Olivia was reading the agreement to Peter, she requested that he complete two SVPRO modules 21 days after the ARP Zoom meeting. Peter quickly said he completed the modules the night before because the investigator told him the training was part of Olivia’s proposed agreement.
“That was a little disappointing and confusing for me and just caught me off guard, again, in this conversation where I was trying to feel in control,” said Olivia. “I felt like that moment left me feeling a little embarrassed and awkward and just kind of minimized what I was asking for because I felt like he now had this moment of power.”
Olivia’s investigator also asked Peter to verbally apologize to Olivia — something Olivia wasn’t expecting. She wanted that letter. Olivia wanted to hold onto something genuine and concrete after the resolution was complete. She didn’t want a verbal apology.
After Peter apologized, the Zoom call was silent. Then, the investigator asked Olivia what she thought of the apology.
“It is three months too late,” said Olivia to The Ubyssey. “It doesn’t change things for me or magically fix things for me … I appreciate the conversation, but I felt it was important for him to know how little his presence and his forced apology meant to me in the grand scheme of things.”
Then, they went on break. Once Olivia was back in the Zoom meeting, the investigator pulled her aside into a breakout room and told her the ARP might not be working for her.
“She said, ‘I’m seeing some anger from you,’” said Olivia. Olivia had to double down and advocate for herself. She was not angry. She was communicating her feelings and advocating for herself and what she wanted out of the ARP process, Olivia told The Ubyssey.
Throughout her resolution meeting, Olivia’s investigator had internet issues, leading to the investigator suggesting postponing the rest of the ARP.
“I’ve been sick over this call for a week, I didn’t sleep last night, a lot went into me being there and feeling good about being there that day and the thought of doing that again was really, really disheartening,” said Olivia.
Despite times when Olivia felt the process was less than ideal, she said was happy with her ARP and her experience with the IO.
“I had a really positive experience going through the process of finding somebody at SVPRO and filing a report with the Investigations Office and actually reaching an alternative resolution,” said Olivia.
Three hours later, the meeting was over. Olivia and Peter had undergone the IO’s ARP.
Just over three weeks later, Olivia got an email from the IO saying Peter had dropped off the letter she requested.
“I actually had a shift at work that afternoon and I really wanted to read it in my own home … It’s really the last piece of this puzzle … I wanted it to feel like a full circle moment back in my home.”
But Olivia couldn’t wait until she got home to open the letter.
In the washroom of the Save-On-Foods in Wesbrook Village, which is across the street from the IO, Olivia sat on the bathroom floor, and the cold seeped its way into her legs. She locked the door, the click of the lock echoed through the washroom.
She put in her earbuds and turned on the same song she listened to while writing her report — “I Think He Knows” by Taylor Swift. She didn’t want to associate any other song with her experience. This song was with her from the start.
“To me the title of it always seemed … angry,” said Olivia. “I know he knows.”
The air was thick with nerves. Olivia didn’t know what the letter would say. It would be the culmination of a months-long process.
She opened the envelope.
“It didn’t spark much for me…” said Olivia. “It didn’t feel overly emotional, or mind boggling, or groundbreaking or magically curing to me, not that I expected it to.”
Since receiving the letter, things have been good for Olivia. She said she’s ready to close this chapter in her life for now.
“I’m sharing my experience and hopefully, in some way, contribute to positive trajectories for other people in these terrible situations as well. I feel really, really fortunate to be here.”
The letter now lives in her closet sitting untouched, but it’s comforting to know it exists.
“I think I’m ready to make my peace with this one."