A woman who alleges she was sexually harassed and another who alleges she was groped by University of B.C. psychology professor Dr. Stephen Porter say they were “devastated” to find out he was back on campus this semester.
An investigation commissioned by UBC in 2017 found that, in the alleged harassment case, the relationship between Porter and the student was consensual — although it did violate the university’s conflict of interest rules.
In the alleged groping case, the same investigator found Porter did touch the complainant, but he was too drunk to form sexual intent. However, his inebriated state did breach UBC’s respectful environment statement.
Porter teaches forensic psychology at UBC’s Okanagan campus, where his research focuses on detecting deception. His work has garnered several prestigious awards.
The first complainant is an undergraduate student who has since graduated. The second is a graduate student still enrolled at UBC. They told their stories exclusively to CBC News, with documentation outlining their alleged experiences.
The two women say they were told Porter was on leave from UBC before returning this semester. UBC wouldn’t confirm it, citing privacy rules.
“I was absolutely terrified,” said the second complainant, whom CBC News has agreed not to identify. “I very well could have been in a class with him.”
CBC News has agreed to not reveal the names of the two women due to the nature of the alleged incidents, which took place in the summer and fall of 2016.
The women say they first informed the university’s human resources department about the allegations in October 2016.
Porter no longer teaching
Both of the complainants say the university mishandled their cases, from the time of their disclosures in the fall of 2016 until this week when Porter was on campus teaching a class.
On Dec. 29, the B.C. College of Psychologists issued a public notice and put Porter’s practice under supervision, with a “particular focus” on sexual harassment and boundary issues.
On Friday, UBC said in an email that Porter was teaching one class this semester. But later that day, the university asked to revise that statement to say Porter had agreed to step aside from his teaching duties.
The university says it cannot share details on personnel matters because of privacy reasons. CBC News also reached out to Stephen Porter. He did not respond to requests for comment.
‘I was ashamed’
The first complainant says Porter sent her sexualized texts, emails and Snapchat messages over a period of months — including telling her he didn’t wear underwear, according to the findings of an investigation — in an exchange she calls a “betrayal” and “manipulative.”
The investigation ordered by the university, which CBC News obtained a copy of, notes Porter had offered her a job as his research assistant, and he had agreed to supervise her honours thesis.
“I was scared like I think anybody in a very competitive field would be,” the first complainant said. “I was embarrassed. I was ashamed.”
The investigation later determined the exchange was consensual — although it acknowledged his position of authority as her future employer and supervisor.
The university’s conflict of interest rules state that any such relationships should be disclosed to a department head.
The second complainant alleges Porter got drunk and tried to put his hand down her dress while they were sharing a ride home with other students after a party, long after most other faculty members had gone home.
The investigator determined Porter touched the complainant’s neck and collarbone but was too drunk to form “any intent, including a sexual intent.”
UBC ‘mishandled it at every single turn’
The two complainants say they were frustrated by how UBC handled their allegations.
“They mishandled it at every single turn,” the first complainant said. “I felt like I was the one being investigated.”
Initially, they say officials wouldn’t tell them how Porter would be disciplined. They say the university told them Porter was on leave but wouldn’t initially tell them if he would be coming back to campus.
“I was fearful every day I came to campus whether that would be the day that he just showed up,” the second complainant said.
They say the university repeatedly kept information from them, citing privacy and confidentiality. They filed Freedom of Information requests to obtain copies of their investigative reports.
CBC News asked UBC about the allegations regarding what the complainants say is a lack of transparency and a mishandling of their cases, but UBC again said it could not comment on personnel matters due to privacy reasons.
Their frustrations are what led them to eventually complain to the B.C. College of Psychologists.
“I went there because I wasn’t getting traction with the university,” the second complainant said.
Both women say the College of Psychologists was responsive, persistent and considerate with their complaint, frequently reporting back.
“Those safeguards exist in that profession for a reason, but they don’t seem to exist in academia,” she said.
UBC ‘just swept it under the rug’
The second complainant believes Porter should have been fired.
“I feel like people get fired for a lot less every day. And being a tenured professor should not protect you from that,” she said.
The first complainant says she would have liked to see the university make the allegations public and put safeguards in place like the College of Psychologists did.
“I was disappointed that the university just swept it under the rug, so to speak,” she said, adding that she had come forward to prevent any more similar allegations.
The allegations come at a time when the university is touting its new policy on sexual assault, which was instated last May, after the allegations took place.
The policy, put in place last spring, says “UBC is committed to countering rape culture” and acknowledges that consent may be compromised when sexual activity is initiated by “someone exercising a position of trust, power or authority.”
With files from Jason Proctor
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