VANCOUVER – Simon Fraser University says it acted swiftly on sexual assault allegations against a male student, but a professor is accusing the school of mishandling the case and causing two young women to drop out.
Officials at the Vancouver-area university said Tuesday that RCMP were investigating after three allegations of sexual assault were made last semester by three female students against a male student.
Jon Driver, vice-president of academic and provost, said the male student who is the subject of the allegations is not on campus, but he did not say if he was suspended or expelled.
“As soon as university personnel became aware of these allegations, the university took action to support the students concerned without interfering with the police investigation,” he said in a statement.
“In addition, both the RCMP and the university conducted safety assessments. Measures were taken to ensure the safety of the campus community.”
But Marjorie Griffin Cohen, a professor emeritus of political science and gender, sexuality and women’s studies, said not nearly enough was done.
She said she knows one of the female complainants. The young woman reported her alleged assault to campus security and police, but the university did not remove the male student from campus at that time, said Cohen.
“Everywhere she went, she was seeing him, which was quite terrifying to her,” Cohen said.
Later, Cohen learned that another young woman had earlier reported being sexually assaulted by the same male student. That woman dropped out of university, Cohen said.
After the second complaint, she said representatives of the faculty association, its equity committee and a group of female professors called Academic Women met with senior administration to discuss the issue and were told they had determined the male student was not a problem.
A meeting was subsequently held with the complainant’s mother and some of her friends, and the university ultimately moved the male student to another residence, Cohen said.
The young woman dropped out of university as well, Cohen said. The professor is calling on the university to do something to restore the two complainants’ academic years.
She also said recent legislation passed by the B.C. government doesn’t go far enough. The law requires universities to develop policies to prevent and respond to sexual assaults, but doesn’t stipulate what those policies should look like.
Cohen said universities should be under similar legislation to that of employers, who have been mandated by the Supreme Court of Canada since 1985 to protect their employees from sexual harassment and abuse.
“I think that kind of compulsion has to be put on universities. These are very young girls,” she said. “This is horrific.”
Kurt Heinrich, director of university communications, said he could not comment on Cohen’s allegations. He said privacy legislation and the ongoing RCMP investigation prevent the university from discussing specifics of the cases.
Driver said in the statement the university’s priority was to protect the safety and privacy of students, and as a result of these concerns, he was limited in his ability to address the specifics of the cases.
Sgt. Derek Thibodeau confirmed the RCMP are investigating the allegations of sexual assault at the school and encouraged the public to contact police with any information.
“In any investigation of this nature the Burnaby RCMP would look at partner police agencies to determine if there are any connection to other crimes,” he said in a statement.
Thibodeau said RCMP have no information to suggest that the alleged assaults were committed randomly by a stranger.
Leah Horlick, co-ordinator of the SFU Women’s Centre operated by the university’s student society, said questions are being raised about the school’s handling of the case.
“I think what all young people and survivors are seeing right now is that they have no reason to trust the university, and unfortunately I think that’s what we’ve had confirmed through this case.”
Simon Fraser is developing a standalone sexual assault policy to comply with the new B.C. law, and Horlick said she hopes the policy makes the consequences for sexual violence clear.
“It’s my hope that that standalone policy will require the university community to acknowledge the gravity of sexual assault on our campuses,” she said.