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UBCAccountable, Stop Making Our Work Harder

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Please sign and share in support of our letter:We are writing in response to the Open Letter from Canadian authors regarding the UBC handling of complaints against Steven Galloway. As scholars, counsellors and ...Read More

Please sign and share in support of our letter:

We are writing in response to the Open Letter from Canadian authors regarding the UBC handling of complaints against Steven Galloway. As scholars, counsellors and activists involved in sexual violence policy development, education and direct services for those who have experienced sexual assault on university campuses, we are deeply concerned about the impact of this letter on survivors of sexual violence, on complainants present and future, on respondents in these cases, and on university faculty and administrators working to provide safe ways for students to come forward and fair treatment for respondents.

The media have reported on this issue in ways which highlight high profile Canadian authors, when in fact a small number of writers have inserted themselves through their access to mass media into an ongoing crisis on campuses across the country. This is damaging to the rights of complainants and respondents everywhere. We are not writing to defend the specifics of the process at UBC, about which we know nothing other than what has been reported in the press. However, from our own work at Canadian universities on sexual violence policy, disciplinary tribunals, and direct support of survivors we do know that the complaint process is deeply shaped by legal, policy, and collective agreement requirements – none of which can simply be set aside. The Open Letter demonstrates little knowledge or interest in significant bodies of law.

Instead, the letter focuses on the accused, as a victim, and presents the accused’s version of events. In doing so it actually lays the groundwork for a media explosion that does not benefit the rights to privacy of complainants or respondents. Signed by numerous influential Canadian authors, it invites us to trust their interpretation about who is the injured party in this case and it promotes public trial. The fallout of the letter and the surrounding media storm has been massive on complainants at large and on students who identify as sexual assault survivors.

It should be understood by writers and signers that attempting to influence an open case, demanding protected private information and identifiers, while circulating potential misinformation in mass media forums, is irresponsible and dangerous. While we deeply respect the work of those who signed this letter and understand they intended to lobby for a fair and transparent process, we hope that they might consider the impact of their actions on all those involved, not simply the accused.

Additionally, the letter cannot hope to achieve its stated goals as it is not a legal petition to government. UBC cannot, by definition, engage independent inquiry into its own practices.

As those working in sexual assault policy development, we also advocate for the processes of investigation and disciplinary processes to be transparent, but this does not necessarily mean the wider public should have access to the content of investigations which include private details of events involving vulnerable parties; this would violate privacy rights of the accused and survivors.

Disturbing as well have been several releases of information protected by laws into social media. The complainants have had their rights to privacy severely abused and their suffering minimized in major media, all without consultation or consent. This precedent has astounding implications as it models large-scale intimidation of any student who might consider speaking out against a faculty member.

The overwhelming majority of research on sexual violence suggests it is most often complainants who are disbelieved. The term ‘rape culture’ is intended to signal a context in which one in four women will experience sexual violence, and yet there is a widespread rationalization of asymmetrical systems of power, and a sense of resignation that violence is inevitable. Indigenous, racialized and LGBTQ+ students and those with mental and physical health challenges face increased risk of violence and substantial barriers when they try to report.

While the Open Letter signed by literary celebrities implies that complaints of sexual violence should be dealt with through the criminal justice system, it fails to recognize that the vast majority of complainants do not report assault to the police, because this system almost never works to hold perpetrators accountable. Furthermore, the assertion that responding to sexual violence is purely the domain of the criminal justice system fails to acknowledge the duty of care that universities have to their students to protect them from campus sexual violence, as well as their legal authority to discipline students, staff, and faculty members who perpetrate sexual assault and harassment.

As Zoe Todd has written (Rabble.ca), when prominent authors in a relatively small Canadian arts community focus only on Mr. Galloway’s experience, this has a powerful negative impact on survivors – an effect that extends far beyond this particular case. We ask you to consider this impact and the impact on the privacy rights of respondents and withdraw the letter.

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