Vuepoint: Campus assaults


In the spring of 2014, a University of British Columbia student formally complained to the school about Dmitry Mordvinov, a 28-year-old PhD student in the history department. The student alleged Mordvinov had forced himself on her after a night of partying. Soon after, another student brought forward allegations of sexual assault perpetrated by Mordvinov.

This was not the first time the school had heard complaints against Mordvinov. As early as 2011, another graduate student repeatedly told UBC that she had witnessed several alleged instances of sexual misconduct by Mordvinov. But the school did little to act, and a CBC investigation last week finally caught on.

What emerged was a picture of a grotesquely negligent administration willfully shutting down the case at every turn, wary that “unsubstantiated allegations” would incite fear and suspicion among its students. At least six women complained about Mordvinov before the university quietly expelled him last month. “I think I’ve been more traumatized by the process of reporting than I was traumatized by the incident of assault,” former student Caitlin Cunningham told reporters Sunday. “The system is broken. It’s in all ways broken. I don’t think there’s any other way to put it.”

Canadian universities should all acknowledge this plea. To survive a sexual assault is unimaginably traumatic. But to report it means survivors must trust in a workable legal system. UBC, however, has repeatedly failed these students, and the school’s actions demand condemnation and reflection. An apology is the first step, which UBC president Martha Piper extended Sunday when she admitted the process took too long.

But to salvage any hope in the system means taking further steps. Students are suggesting that UBC create a 24-hour sexual assault response team; the university says it will launch an independent review of the case and re-examine its sexual assault policy.

Mordvnivov said he plans to appeal the ruling. UBC, in turn, should revisit its appeal process to minimize any risk of re-victimization among its students.

Universities idealize themselves as bastions of progressivism. But this case reminds us how dangerous it is when an institution’s reputation takes precedence over everything—and how secrecy can ultimately inflict the greatest trauma.V

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