Report details gaps and improvements in response to sexual violence at King’s


An interim report from investigators investigating sexual assault allegations involving a former University of King’s College professor found there was much room for improvement in the fight against sexual violence in Halifax school, but good work is being done to meet the challenges.

The University of King’s College hired two lawyers from Toronto in March 2021 to conduct a third-party review of the allegations against longtime professor Wayne John Hankey.

Hankey faced three criminal trials on charges of sexual assault, indecent assault and gross indecency for incidents involving former students between 1977 and 1988, but he died in early February before any of the trials took place.

The investigators’ interim report, Janice Rubin and Elizabeth Bingham, was handed over to the King’s Fellowship on Tuesday. It contains their recommendations on how King’s can ensure it provides a safe environment regarding sexual violence. Another report from investigators is expected in September and will detail their findings on the allegations involving Hankey.

The report is based on 273 responses to a survey of current King faculty, staff and students, and alumni of the Classes of 2019, 2020 and 2021, as well as interviews with 43 of those respondents.

“Culture of Silence”

Many respondents said they heard rumors about Hankey’s conduct or were tipped off about Hankey by upper-year students, friends or family, with some saying they heard of the allegations within days of the incident. beginning of their studies.

These rumours, according to the report, affected respondents’ perceptions of the school, making some feel that King’s did not take allegations of misconduct seriously.

One participant told reviewers, “Having Wayne Hankey on the payroll and in the King’s community for so long has set a precedent for ignoring allegations of sexual abuse, and that culture is pervasive.”

Many spoke of a “culture of silence” at King’s regarding sexual abuse, including a sense that the school would cover up allegations of sexual misconduct.

“It feels like nothing is settled until there is public pressure and media attention. The focus is on burying things,” one person told investigators.

King’s former teacher, Wayne John Hankey, was facing three sex offense trials, but died in February before the first trial was held. (Radio Canada)

Another theme that emerged from the survey and interviews was that King’s is a small, tight-knit community, which could be a barrier for people talking about sexual violence, as it could ruin relationships or fuel rumors.

King’s small community and close student-faculty relationships were seen as an advantage by many, but some respondents also said that “unhealthy power dynamics” can lead to boundary-crossing behavior, including romantic overtures made by teachers to students”.

Participants told reviewers that since King’s students come primarily from a wealthy, white background, people who don’t fit that culture may not feel comfortable reporting sexual violence because they believe it would be futile and they could face greater social consequences.

Many respondents told investigators of their own experiences of sexual violence at King’s, including sexual harassment, threats of sexual violence, and sexual assaults in the home. Some participants said they were fired by residence teachers when they came forward, and some said the teachers themselves made sexual advances to students or had sex with students.

Alcohol was also a factor noted by some survey participants, including numerous reports of drink tampering at the campus pub, the Wardroom. The report notes that saloon staff have taken steps to tackle drink tampering, including staff training.

Positive measures on campus

King’s introduced its sexual violence awareness, prevention and response policy in 2018, and now has a sexual health and safety officer who received high praise from many survey participants.

Investigators found the policy “robust and consistent with best practices,” and many participants said it had brought about positive change on campus.

But many respondents said they had received little or no training on the policy and felt that training should be both mandatory and ongoing.

Recommendations

Rubin and Bingham made a handful of recommendations, including that King come to terms with his past.

“We believe it is imperative that King’s heeds its history,” the critics wrote. “It is clear from the survey responses and interviews that Dr. Hankey’s alleged misconduct continues to have a profound impact on the current King’s community. Participants described feelings of anger, hurt and betrayal towards King’s, especially after the announcement of criminal charges against Dr Hankey in 2021.”

Investigators have recommended that King’s put community supports in place when it releases its second report this fall.

They also suggested that King’s consider improving training on its sexual violence policy, including making it mandatory.

The university should provide a forum for King professors to reflect on their role as teachers and mentors, and how they can “maintain the highest standards of professionalism in their dealings with students.” The school should produce a document addressing appropriate boundaries between faculty and students, the report recommends.

Reviewers cautioned against relying too much on the school’s sexual health and safety officer, who the report says often serves as a ‘first responder’ for students who have experienced sexual violence . They also suggested:

  • Create a checklist of steps to follow after a disclosure of sexual violence.

  • Create a process to handle multiple disclosures about the same person.

  • Address how records related to reports of sexual violence are stored, accessed and retained.

  • Require members of the school’s sexual violence hearing committee to be trained on topics related to sexual violence. The three-member panel is appointed to review investigation reports, make recommendations and ensure procedural fairness.

  • Prohibit investigators from asking survivors irrelevant questions about their sexual history.

  • Create an explicit schedule for calls.

University response

The university declined a CBC News interview request about the report, but a statement to King’s community contained an apology.

“The information shared with [law firm] Rubin Thomlinson shows that many members of our community have been victims of sexual violence or vulnerable to sexual violence without having the protection and support they should have received. To all of these members of our community, we are sorry. We need to address the ways King’s let you down.”

The statement said King’s accepts all of the recommendations and is developing an action plan in response.

“While an action plan is needed, we understand that more than policies, procedures and information sharing on the university’s website is needed,” the statement said.

“What is needed is a fundamental change in our culture and a deep consideration of our past. We have started this process of change, but we must recognize that we have a long way to go and that it is is the responsibility of the university as a whole and not of those who have individual experiences with, and vulnerabilities to, sexualized violence to take the lead role in this work.”