A year ago, UBC suspended Creative Writing professor Steven Galloway with pay. Although the reason for his suspension was not made public, the shroud of mystery and silence around it led many in the UBC community to suspect that allegations of sexual misconduct had been made against him.
Over the summer, The Globe and Mail ascertained that Galloway was accused of sexual harassment and bullying within the Creative Writing program. An accusation of sexual assault was also made against Galloway, although no details about the accusation are known as the woman who made the allegation has not spoken to the media. Mary Ellen Boyd, a former BC Supreme Court Judge whom UBC hired to investigate this case, found nearly all the allegations brought against Galloway unsubstantiated.
In an exchange with The Globe and Mail, author Karen Connelly explained that many people at UBC are afraid to speak out in support of Galloway because they “fear for their reputations; they do not want to be branded as ‘rape apologists’ or people who ‘do not believe women.’” She also emphasized “what a force for [the] literary community he has been – how many students he has helped, to find work, to access agents, to meet publishers – what a dedicated teacher, what a generous, open-minded human he is; what a talented, exacting writer.”
That these individuals “do not believe women” is not really a matter of “branding.” If they believe that Galloway is innocent of sexual assault, which is what the woman who made the main complaint has alleged, then the fact that they do not believe this woman is indisputable.
False rape allegations are very rare; only 2-4% of rape reports are false according to statistics. In the overwhelming majority of cases, someone who has been accused of rape is a rapist. Being enormously helpful to students, a “force for the literary community,” a talented writer, and having an open mind are not traits that are relevant to whether or not someone is a rapist.
Madeleine Thien, a friend of Galloway and UBC alumna, emphasized that she believes UBC ought to have informed the police rather than handling the case themselves. “As a survivor of sexual assault, I do not take the law lightly, nor do I take lightly my responsibility to the law. I personally believe that we must invoke and use the legal system, even when it is flawed; we must change it ourselves. We cannot rely on institutions, including UBC, whose primary interests are self-serving and who have never been invested with the obligation to uphold justice.”
These may well be valid points, but insofar as we know, the main complainant did not go to the police; she went to UBC. The vast majority of survivors of sexual assault in Canada do not go to the police, and for good reason. According to Ipsos Reid, 71% of survivors who reported their rape to the police felt it was a negative experience. 39% of all survivors who reported said the experience made them feel abandoned, and a further 39% said it left them devastated. It’s all well and good to say we must change the legal system, but it seems inhumane to put that burden on already traumatized survivors.
Chelsea Rooney and Sierra Skye Gemma, graduates of UBC’s MFA program, came forward as witnesses in support of the main complainant in the case. They now say they are “disgusted” that the final report for the investigation, put together by Boyd, left out the most serious incidents that they recounted. Rooney indicated that the redacted version of the report only included petty complaints and left out her testimony of serious sexual harassment.
Rooney became particularly troubled by the direction the investigation was being taken when Boyd asked her to come in for a second interview and asked Rooney about her views on Believe Women, a movement supporting women who report having been sexually assaulted. Boyd fairly soundly dismissed Rooney’s complaints in her final report.
In the end, this investigation has left confusion, pain, and anger in its wake. Why UBC would so publicly suspend and then fire an employee when they don’t seem to think he is guilty of much of anything is anyone’s guess. Meanwhile, the direction of Boyd’s investigation and the reaction of many in the literary community continue to dismiss survivors of sexualized violence who have had the courage to come forward.