Student turned away over sexual assault report prompts change by university

A student who was sexually assaulted in 2012 went to report the crimes to a TRU counsellor, but says all she got was a recommendation to switch schools. Now, TRU is looking at new policies and putting together a taskforce to deal with the problem.

Jean Strong, a journalism student now headed into her fourth year, said that when she went to report two sexual assault incidents to a TRU counsellor in 2012, she was told that she should consider changing schools. The sexual assaults happened in 2012 during her first semester at the university. She booked an appointment with a counsellor in Old Main to discuss the incident.

“I was very detailed in telling them exactly what had happened, so it’s not like there was any confusion on what had actually happened or what was actually done to me,” Strong said. “There was no mention of RCMP. There was no mention of student and judicial affairs. There was no mention of making it an official report. It was, ‘You know what, this school might not be the best for you.’”

Strong recalls being in such an “awful state” that she actually considered the advice that was given to her, rather than trying to report the assaults elsewhere.

She wrote about the incident in the Digital Times, a website created to showcase the work of TRU’s journalism students. In the time since she published the piece on June 26, she has heard from other students and friends via Facebook, who have shared experiences similar to her own.

“I’ve had so many messages from girls on campus who were either told the same thing I was, or didn’t report it because they didn’t feel TRU was a safe place to report it. I was blown away by the number of people,” she said.

Citing student confidentiality, dean of students Christine Adam would not comment on Strong’s case specifically, but did tell the Omega that the university will put in place an “interim protocol” for dealing with student reports of sexual assaults. It will also put together a taskforce that will work on developing new policy (or changing existing policy) on sexual assault prevention and student safety.

“It’s not just about saying ‘we developed a policy’ and walking away, it’s about the whole breadth of activities that need to take place to address this,” Adam said, noting that the problem was bigger than just TRU.

“This is a society challenge. It’s one of the most underreported crimes, and we have a lot of work to do across this country to help keep our students and society safe. Jean’s article is an important part of this whole conversation.”

The university has no official policy that covers sexual assault, but in a Nov. 12 article, Adam told the Omega that there were “supports available on campus” if a student were to approach a counsellor to report a sexual assault.

In Strong’s case, whatever was supposed to happen, didn’t.

“If I come forward to a counsellor, I think I should at least be told about my options,” Strong said, adding that victims should be given the support and resources they need, including the option to report the crime to the RCMP.

In the past four years, TRU has had two reported sexual assaults, but that figure does not include “disclosures” of sexual assault made by students, which are not tracked.

“Anyone may disclose to someone, to a counsellor, a staff member, a faculty member … what’s really important to us is that we leave the decision-making power in the hands of the victim. We don’t take a disclosure and turn it into a report,” Adam said.

There are few details on specifically what the taskforce will change at this point, but Adam said that tracking disclosures is something that may be looked at.

In her article, Strong is critical of TRU’s provided figure of two sexual assaults in the past four years, and is in favour of disclosures being tracked.

“In a perfect world, whether you went to a counsellor, or a professor, or security or police, all of those reports would be counted,” she said.