The University of Alberta has, for the first time, publically released figures related to sexual violence on campus.
The numbers, quietly released in a Student Conduct and Accountability statistical report, show there were more than 40 recorded incidents of sexual assault, sexual harassment and drugging during the 2015 to 2016 school year.
The university said one student was responsible for approximately 30 of those incidents.
“It’s always a concern. We know sexual violence is a problem,” said Deb Eerkes, the director of student conduct and accountability.
Global News asked what years the responsible students were in and what disciplinary action was taken against them but the university would not release those details.
The statistical reports, which are released annually, have never included numbers related to gender-based violence before. Eerkes said the university decided to release these numbers as it updated its sexual violence policy.
“We are expecting to actually have numbers rise, not go down, because we have opened the door for students to come and tell us what has happened to them,” she said.
But, as of right now, it is not clear what the university plans to do with the data.
Eerkes said a working group is addressing that very question right now, but she said the hope is that releasing the numbers will make the issue more transparent and encourage people to come forward and access supports and services.
Mary Jane James, the executive director of the Sexual Assault Centre of Edmonton, said sexual violence knows no boundaries.
“What’s really good about this is the University of Alberta is owning it and speaking publicly about it,” she said.
“When institutions speak publicly about the issue, it prevents those perpetrators from hiding behind the scenes. Secrecy breeds more assaults.”
However, James said the numbers may not paint the most accurate picture of what is happening on campus.
“Eight to 10 per cent of sexual assault, sexual violence incidents are ever reported at all. There’s a lot of sexual violence incidents that are happening out there,” she said.
In July, Edmonton police said sexual assaults in 2017 have spiked 13 per cent over 2016. In the first seven months of 2017, around 540 victims reported being sexually assaulted to police in Edmonton, 63 more compared to this time last year.
Kristin Raworth, a sexual assault survivor, said the U of A publicly releasing the data is a good first step “to get an idea of what the issue is and what the issue looks like on campuses.”
She said it’s important to look at how the statistics were collected, adding assaults can occur between students off-campus, and adds it’s important to ensure the data collected by the university is ultimately used to help students.
“We’re ensuring mental health supports on campus. We’re ensuring that students are consistently receiving information around consent and around what sexual violence is,” she said.
Numbers of sexual violence for the 2016 to 2017 school year will be released in November.
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