Advocates say B.C. sexual violence complaint should be 'wake-up call' for policing schools
VANCOUVER -- Caution: This story contains graphic details.
A disturbing complaint against a student at a Metro Vancouver police training institute has women’s advocates urging institutional reform, which the school is already considering.
Aliya Vargas said she broke off a casual sexual relationship she had with a Justice Institute of B.C. student she met online when he grew increasingly violent. She then reported him to his school.
“He wanted to be a cop and when he told me that, I was terrified,” said Vargas. “He was rough at the beginning but I thought that was normal for men to do. After a while he was hitting me till I was dizzy and when I was telling him, ‘Hey, can you not do that?’ he was just laughing in my face. He would continue to hurt me.”
When the 19-year-old made the allegations to the JIBC last July, they encouraged her to file a report with Richmond RCMP, who made a copy of the data on her phone — including graphic text messages describing her in derogatory sexual terms that left her feeling demeaned.
“They asked for screenshots and it was basically a confession (about) how much he enjoyed to rape me," said Vargas. "It was in his own words that he raped me. He said, ‘I miss raping you,' and I sent that to them."
After repeatedly asking Mounties and the school for an update and being met with silence, Vargas told friends what had happened and how frustrated she was at the lack of communication. This week they bombarded the Justice Institute with emails and social media criticism, which the school publicly acknowledged on Wednesday in an Instagram post.
Vancouver Rape Relief wasn’t surprised at the lack of communication from both investigators and the school.
“We know that any institution — police, universities — any institution will not change its policies, will not change its attitude towards women who come forward and complain about sexual violence unless they are being held accountable by the public,” said Hilla Kerner. “We have to demand transparency and accountability of all institutions.”
In addition to its Instagram statement, the Justice Institute posted an extended letter from president and CEO, Dr. Michel Tarko, insisting that sexual violence and misconduct is not tolerated.
In an interview with CTV News, student services director Mary DeMarinis explained that like most post-secondary schools, the Justice Institute has a narrow scope when it comes to sexual misconduct it’s able to investigate and act on: Only allegations stemming from school-sanctioned events, the campus or between students fall within their purview.
“We encouraged her to file a police report and guided her through that,” said DeMarinis, who put Vargas in touch with support services.
“Respecting there are significant limitations with regards to privacy, it would fair to say the Richmond RCMP received and fully investigated these allegations and the results of the investigation were submitted to the BC Prosecution Service (BCPS) for independent charge assessment, which was not met,” Mounties wrote in an emailed statement.
When asked whether the JIBC had to take a different approach than most post-secondary institutions considering so many students will hold positions of authority as police officers, border guards and corrections staff, DeMarinis agreed that a different standard must apply and that the institution is considering how to codify those expectations in the future.
“We need to be talking to our students (about who they are) at all times, not just in class, not just at our events, but who are you as a citizen? And we’re only interested in training people who are going to become better citizens, better police officers,” she said, pointing out students entering the Law Enforcement Studies program must pass a criminal background check and provide letters of reference.
The Justice Institute acknowledged that the student in question was allowed to go back to classes in the fall after the RCMP told them he didn’t present a threat to other students, but said he removed himself from the course on his own. Vargas is frustrated that the school didn’t take action and that the young man can presumably resume his studies and continue his goal of becoming a police officer.
“It’s hard for me to accept my body was treated like that, like I was a piece of meat,” she said. “What if he got hired to an actual police department?”
Keller is encouraging women with similar experiences or complaints to contact Vancouver Rape Relief or another advocacy group to join them as they file complaints to help guide them through the process and pressure agencies for accountability.
She also insists this case, combined with a global movement questioning the role and training of police, should prompt serious reflection of policies and expectations starting at the student level.
“We definitely think this is a serious wake-up call to any institutions and training programs for police officers. We have plenty of evidence and we have been calling as women’s groups for much better screening and much better training of police officers,” Keller said. “This is an example for an institution that’s responsible for training police officers, as a state agent on the frontline, to make sure their candidates are people who treat women, people of colour and oppressed people in a very respectful way.”