UNBC Counselling Services is Failing Students

Maria Eleonora of Brandenburg

On the first day of UNBC’s orientation, they heavily cover consent. There are posters in the hallways and bathrooms, you are surrounded by it all over campus. I always thought it was overkill, as we are university students, we know what consent means. In March 2018 on university residence, I was proven wrong.

Initially, I could not really grasp what had happened to me. I knew I was uncomfortable with the situation. I had said “no” more times than I could keep track of, and I knew that something was very wrong. I had been sexually assaulted and I could not even recognize it. I went to sleep that night feeling numb, replaying what had happened in my head, over and over.

My first reflex was to blame myself. I had too much to drink, I should have fought back, or I should have gotten someone to walk me all of the way to my dorm. I could have done this, or should have done that. In reality, nothing that could have been done would have prevented this from happening. I could not have predicted his actions, and I took the path of least resistance. There was no “fight or flight,” only freeze.

Thanks to the encouragement of some friends, I went to the police and spoke with someone who specializes in assault against women. Although she said that we could go forward with my case, there was not enough evidence to prove that it was not consensual. It would be a long and distressing argument of “he said, she said” and would likely end in the judge dismissing the whole thing. The thought of having to retell my account, reliving the trauma over and over, seemed more like a detrimental ordeal for me, rather than punishment for him. I left that day feeling hopeless.

I was extremely reluctant to speak with a counsellor, as I was not ready to talk about the experience in depth. Despite me being adamantly against the idea, I went with a friend to Counselling Services to book an appointment. Unfortunately, it was midterm exam time and they were booked solid for the next couple of weeks. Though they do have a drop-in schedule, all of the times overlapped with my lectures and labs. Again, I left feeling hopeless.

My new plan was to forget about the experience. I had already missed over a week of classes and with midterms quickly approaching, I could not afford to waste another second dwelling on what had happened. Shockingly, that approach did not work and both midterms ended in disaster.

At this point, I was barely functioning and knew that emotional guidance was needed from a professional if I was going to make it through the semester. I scheduled a drop-in appointment with Counselling Services.

From my experience, UNBC does not have the issue of representatives trying to sweep sexual assault cases under the rug. I was given many options and solutions – but only if I chose to report it. I, like many other students in Canada, have heard the horror stories of those who have reported their cases to campus police. They are faced with more problems than solutions during an already emotionally draining time. Many do not think it is worth having to relive the trauma and face their perpetrator over again. Though I contemplated reporting it to security, it was not my preferred route. I had gone to counselling for emotional support, searching for ways to cope with what had happened. I did not go craving justice, only wanting to be able to function again and finish the semester.

During the meeting, they heavily emphasized that if I did not report it, it would be partially my fault if he assaulted someone else. I was treated as if I was responsible for his future actions. Their concern for any other potential victims seemed to overshadow any interest they had in my wellbeing. As for academic assistance, they recommended I withdraw and try again the following semester. With less than a month left before finals, this was not an option I was willing to consider. The pressure put on me during that meeting left me apprehensive and unstable.

Sadly, I am not alone. According to the Canadian Federation of Students Ontario, one in five women will experience sexual assault while attending a post-secondary institution, but only 700 sexual assaults were reported between 2009 and 2013 at Canadian colleges and universities.

Sexual assault has a lasting impact on victims for years after it occurs. Without proper counselling and support, the effects can be life threatening. UNBC has many options for the victims that are willing to report their assaults. Unfortunately, there is not enough support for those who feel that it is impossible.