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Schools Reporting Zero Sexual Assaults On Campus Not Reflecting Reality, Critics, Students Say

11/23/2015 01:00 EST | Updated 11/23/2016 05:12 EST
Radio-canada/Luc Lavigne
Sixteen Canadian post-secondary schools have received no reports of sexual assault for six years in row, a statistic that critics say should concern administrators as it is likely not representative of the true experience on campuses.

The findings can be found in a CBC News survey, conducted this fall, of 87 post-secondary institutions. These numbers are a follow-up to a survey carried out by CBC News last winter, a first-of its kind canvas of Canadian post-secondary institutions about the reporting of sexual assaults on and off their campus.

The new survey found that, for 2014, the total number of alleged incidents of sexual assault reported to campus authorities amounted to 1.85 per 10,000 students, which is well below what many researchers believe is the case.

Several studies have suggested that one in five women have been victims of some kind of sexual assault on campus, but methodologies differ.

The new CBC survey also found that 16 schools — seven in Quebec and the rest in Western Canada — reported no known incidents of sexual assault at their institutions over the past six years.

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Université du Québec à Montréal is one of 16 schools that have had no reports of sexual assault for six consecutive years.

"It's undercounting," says Holly Johnson, a University of Ottawa criminology professor who studies violence against women on campuses, referring to the Canadian numbers.

"It's not counting what is the true experience of students, because there is no campus in which this doesn't exist."

Researchers such as Johnson say there are many reason why students may not report an assault to their schools. They may tell no one at all, or they may choose to only report to police. But another factor some researchers and student leaders say need to be addressed is a perceived lack of support on campus.

Too often institutions care more about their reputations than about the safety of those on campus, says Canadian Federation of Students chairperson Bilan Arte.

She also believes a campus with zero reports of sexual assault is "a campus climate where the issue of sexual and gendered violence is being shamed and is buried in silence."

CBC survey

In February, a CBC News investigation reported on a survey of 87 Canadian universities and colleges about the number of sexual assaults, as defined by the Criminal Code, that were reported to each school between 2009 and 2013.

Just over 700 sexual assaults were reported over those five years, a number that advocates worried was too low.

The numbers are not meant as a ranking or evaluation of the safety of a particular campus.

In fact, researchers say it is hard to draw comparisons of the reporting methods at schools for a variety of reasons, including the different definitions being applied, the methods of collecting the data and the climate on each campus.

A low number or a zero could mean a lower rate of sexual assault at that institution, but it can also mean a school is not doing enough to encourage reporting.

This fall, CBC went back to the same universities and large colleges to request the number of reports of sexual assault they had received for the 2014 calendar year.

Eighty-three of the 87 schools, representing a combined enrolment of over one million full-time students, provided complete data.

These 83 schools received 224 reports, which is a rate of 1.85 reports per 10,000 students.

Zero reports

The survey for 2014 found that 30 schools said they received zero reports of sexual assault on their campus, and that 16 schools have had no reports of sexual assault for six consecutive years.

Six of those 16 are from the Université du Québec group: École de technologie supérieure, Université du Québec à Montréal, Université du Québec à Rimouski, Université du Québec à Trois-Rivières, Université du Québec en Abitibi-Témiscamingue and Université du Québec en Outaouais.

These six schools have a combined full-time enrollment of almost 50,000 students, and said they received no reports of a sexual assault between 2009 and 2014.

"It's not counting what is the true experience of students."

One of these schools, École de technologie supérieure, is an engineering school in Montreal and it told CBC News that "we have no statistics on this and have never had this type of incident on campus."

Charlene Senn, a women's studies professor at the University of Windsor, laughed at that notion.

"No one should feel satisfied that there is no sexual violence on their campus, because every campus, because of the age of the students on the campus has an elevated risk of sexual assault. So clearly they need to be addressing their campus climate."

Université du Québec told CBC News that many of their campuses are located in small towns and also have a high percentage of female students. 

The other schools that have received no reports of sexual assault for six straight years are

Saskatchewan Polytechnic, Camosun College in Victoria, Red River College in Winnipeg, Capilano University in Vancouver, École des hautes études commerciales in Montreal, University of the Fraser Valley, Vancouver Island University, Kwantlen Polytechnic University in Surrey, Brandon University and Concordia University College of Alberta in Edmonton.

Afroditi Papageorgiu, who is vice-president of the students association at the Saskatoon campus of Saskatchewan Polytechnic, stresses the importance of having supports in place to encourage students to come foreward.

It's not only important for someone's overall well-being, she said, but not having this kind of support "would definitely influence how students do in school."

A spokesperson for the University of Victoria, which had zero reports for 2014 told CBC News, "people respond to sexual violence in different ways. We know that the numbers of sexual violence reported do not tell the full picture as we realize that not all sexual assaults are reported."

Mount Royal University in Calgary, which received three reports dealing with sexual assault in 2014, also noted that "we recognize that sexual assault is a severely under-reported crime both on and off campus, and we aim to create a culture where survivors feel safe to come forward."

In the months since our original survey, two provinces, Ontario and Manitoba, have introduced legislation in an attempt to deal with sexual violence on campus.

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