At every possible level, the University of British Columbia has failed its students who reported sexual assaults -- and nothing looks like it will change.
Three current and former graduate students in the Department of History held a press conference in which they condemn the university for a failure to act on multiple allegations of sexual violence. Multiple women allege that Dmitry Mordvinov, a 28-year-old PhD student, is a serial abuser who committed a large range of sexual assaults including harassment, groping and rape.
The first approach to UBC over Mordvinov's alleged assaults was made in January 2014 with the first formal complaint following later that spring. While Mordvinov is no longer a student at UBC, he was registered as a UBC student at three conferences in the United States this month. His student status was not removed from UBC websites until November 19.
The women Mordvinov allegedly assaulted -- and those who witnessed his alleged assaults -- made multiple complaints at the departmental level, at UBC's Equity Inclusion Office, to Associate Vice-President of Equity and Inclusion Sara-Jane Finlay, the UBC ombudsperson and Student Conduct and Safety Services. There were likely more. Every office failed these women.
As if testimony from multiple women was not enough -- and we know, in fact, that it rarely is -- Mordvinov has admitted an assault took place and shows no remorse for his action. The fifth estate documentary that broke the story reported that Mordvinov told them in an email: "I do realize that in Canada drunk sex is non-consensual, although this thought unfortunately did not cross my mind back then."
MA graduate Glynnis Kirchmeier witnessed one of Mordvinov's alleged assaults and was one of the first to make a complaint to the department. She aptly summed up the whole calamity in Sunday's press conference: "UBC's chance to do the right thing is over," she said. She intends to file a complaint with the B.C. Human Rights Tribunal by the end of the year. She's asking anyone who reported sexual misconduct to the school during the past 20 years to contact her at email@example.com.
UBC remains defiant
UBC is doing its best to spin this disgraceful episode positively. University President Martha Piper issued a textbook response to Sunday's press conference: "I want to apologize to the women in these cases who feel they have been let down by our university." None of the women involved in the complaint were approached personally by Piper with an apology. They weren't even forwarded a link to the official UBC press release.
As rabble.ca blogger Lucia Lorenzi put it on Twitter, "If your apology is 'I'm sorry you FEEL we let we down' when there's concrete evidence you let survivors down...that's not an apology." Incidentally, Lorenzi was also assaulted on UBC campus in a separate incident. She complained. Virtually nothing has happened.
While Piper acknowledged that "the process took too long," in what reads almost as a rebuke to the complainants, she added that "due process can be frustrating and time-consuming." No one, neither Mordvinov nor the complainants received anything close to "due process."
In fact, the entire episode is characterized by an allergy to process of any kind. In an email, Kirchmeier characterized the university's response to her repeated requests for clarity as "appease, appease, appease and fade." She also revealed that Mordvinov wasn't informed of the complaints against him until May 2015 and the details were not disclosed to him until August. It's also unclear what internal appeal process is available to Mordvinov now that he has been expelled over a non-academic matter.
For her part, Finlay told The National that UBC hoped to "learn" from the experiences of the complainants. Aside from the fact that the experiences of sexual assault survivors should not be treated as archives or seminars for institutions unable to adequately support its students, UBC doesn't need to "learn" anything. In fact, it already has all the answers it needs.
Some of this may sound familiar: in 2013, UBC made national headlines because of a chant celebrating rape used during frosh week at Sauder School of Business. The university commissioned a task force to address the culture of sexual violence at the school. Almost none of the recommendations have been implemented.
Kaitlin Russel, one of the complainants, has demanded UBC implement a Sexual Assault Response Team (SART) designed to deal with similar complaints quickly and efficiently. For years, UBC refused to create a sexual assault resource or survivors centre so UBC's student union, the AMS, opened their own in 2002. Like most student-run campus centres nationwide, it remains chronically underfunded and understaffed.
When a report came out earlier this year showing that UBC's internal statistics for reported sexual assaults were roughly one-fifth of the number recorded by the on-campus RCMP detachment, Vice President of Students Louise Cowin, incredulously, again attempted to spin the report positively: "UBC as a campus culture, as a campus environment, really, holds a space where the intention of care and inclusion are very much present so that those who are survivors of sexual assault know that they can come forward in a safe space where their voices will be heard."
If those words sounded suspect then, they are downright farcical now.
Disclosure: I worked with Glynnis Kirchmeier for one year on the executive of CUPE local 2278, UBC's teaching assistant union.
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CU-Boulder has two federal complaints against it, and the U.S. Department of Education's Office of Civil Rights has opened one for investigation.
Students at Swarthmore College filed a Title IX civil rights complaint and a Clery Act complaint which alleges the college underreports sexual assaults and fails to respond to properly handle reports of sexual misconduct and harassment. The college promised to launch a review of their policies, and began announcing reforms in the summer of 2013.
After Angie Epifano wrote a lengthy op-ed about her experience trying to report a sexual assault at Amherst College, the school started an internal review and a revamp of their policies.
The University of North Carolina began looking into their own policies after students and a former administrator filed two complaints with the U.S. Department of Education's Office of Civil Rights. The university now has three federal investigations launched by the Education Department, including one into whether the university retaliated against one of the complainants.
Update: The DOJ found the university botched rape reports. May 12, 2012 report from AP: MISSOULA, Mont. -- The U.S. Justice Department has opened an investigation into the way Missoula police, prosecutors and the University of Montana have responded to reports of sexual assault and harassment after the agency learned of complaints that cases were not being properly handled. The investigation was disclosed Tuesday after a preliminary examination conducted earlier this year concluded there was enough evidence to move ahead with a full probe, Assistant Attorney General Thomas Perez said. Lawyers from the Justice Department's civil rights division will look at all 80 sexual assaults reported by women in Missoula over the past three years. Eleven sexual assaults involving university students have been reported in the past 18 months. Prosecutors were trying to figure out whether those university complaints were included in the total number of citywide assaults reported.
Dec. 17, 2012: It took nearly a month for Oklahoma State University officials to tell police that a single student had been accused by several others of sexual assault, prompting confusion and outrage over the lengthy delay. On Thursday, OSU President Burns Hargis announced he asked the Board of Regents' task force to review the school's handling of the sexual assault complaints. The task force was formed in July to review school policies and ensure a situation like the Sandusky scandal at Penn State does not unfold at OSU. Hargis said in a statement that OSU "cannot leave any doubt that we are indeed properly and appropriately handling sexual misconduct allegations," Tulsa World reports.
University of Notre Dame Under Federal Review After Second Family Complains About Assault Allegations Mishandle Feb. 19, 2011: The University of Notre Dame has been placed under federal review by the U.S. Department of Education following two incidents of reported sexual assault that occurred this academic year.
Two years after the Ivy League school went under a federal investigation, students and alumni once again say the university fails to properly handle sexual assaults and harassment. June 15, 2012 report from Time magazine: The Department of Education announced on Friday that it had resolved a complaint that Yale University had failed to eliminate sexual discrimination on campus. The complaint, filed by a group of 16 current and former students in March 2011, stemmed from an incident on campus on the evening of Oct. 13, 2010, in which members of the Delta Kappa Epsilon fraternity marched across the Yale campus to a dorm where many female students lived and chanted “No means yes! Yes means anal!” A video of the chanting men was posted online and quickly went viral, spurring an uproar at the university and nationwide. Yale was fined $165,000 by the feds.
Oct. 12, 2012 report from HuffPost: Two students in separate cases were arrested last month on sexual assault charges. However, it raised eyebrows as people noted it took eight months to bring charges in one case while only a few days in the other. In response to the controversy, SMU announced a special task force to review how the school handles reports of sexual violence. Administrative action aside, problems persist on the Texas campus. On Wednesday, just a day before the first task force meeting, students received a crime alert warning of another sexual assault; this one allegedly targeting a young woman in her apartment west of campus by an acquaintance and fellow SMU student. The incident became the fifth sexual assault reported this year and the third in the past six weeks to go under investigation by University Park police. At least 40 sexual assaults were reported since 2006, according to the SMU Daily Campus, and almost all of them from SMU students. Over the past 25 years, more than 100 women at SMU reported being sexually assaulted.
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