Sexual Assault on Campus: Are Universities and the Gov. Helping?

According to a survey by the CBC, 16 post-secondary institutions reported zero incidents of sexual assault from 2011 – 2015.

Which is ridiculous.

As a result, data of exactly how often sexual assaults happen on campus is difficult to obtain. The Canadian Women’s Foundation, however, reports that Canadian women ages 15 – 24 are most likely to experience sexual assault.

 A student was told to stay quiet about her sexual assault because UBC didn’t want to taint its image.

As reported by the CBC, in 2013, a 28-year-old PhD student at the University of British Columbia (UBC) committed multiple acts of sexual assault, but none of the survivors came forward until the spring of 2014.

Most disturbingly, CBC News reported that Monica Kay, Director of Conflict Management, Equity and Inclusion offices at UBC,  told a student who came forward to keep quiet about the incidents. “We can’t have you guys tell anybody or talk about this or say that there’s … a problem, because that’s like if people know there are snakes in the grass, but they can’t see the snakes, they’ll get really afraid,” Kay was reported as saying. A student was told to stay quiet about her sexual assault because UBC didn’t want to taint its image.

Universities across the province will be integrating the new bill into their policies, if they exist, regarding the reporting of sexual assault on campus.

More recently, Ontario has introduced Bill 132, Sexual Violence and Harassment Action Plan Act (Supporting Survivors and Challenging Sexual Violence and Harassment). Universities across the province will be integrating the new bill into their policies, if they exist, regarding the reporting of sexual assault on campus. The bill focuses on students not having to report their story multiple times, as well as schools directing them to appropriate resources and providing accommodations when needed.

At face value, the bill sounds legitimate, something that could help students in the grand scheme of things. But professors from the University of Ottawa and Carleton University disagree.

Dr. Dawn Moore spearheaded a 56-page report titled, The Response to Sexual Violence on Ontario University Campuses questioning the Ontario government’s attempt to improve university sexual assault action plans.

“Our research finds that student survivors rarely choose to make formal complaints and that most opt for informal measures, such as counseling, academic accommodations, safety planning and changes in residence.”

On August 10th of this year, Metro obtained their report and published, Ontario’s reforms won’t solve campus sex assault, according to scathing new report obtained by Metro, that caught our attention at SLN. The article goes over the findings of the report, and how although the new bill may help close some gaps, it is only a small piece of the solution.

“Our research finds that student survivors rarely choose to make formal complaints and that most opt for informal measures, such as counseling, academic accommodations, safety planning and changes in residence. More significantly, we found that they rarely felt safe or validated enough to come forward following an assault. Given this, the emphasis on reforming university reporting and investigative procedures will not likely address the concerns and needs of most student survivors,” says Dr. Singh, one of the five doctors that worked on the research, via email with SLN.

When asked about the specific errors found in the new bill, Dr. Singh explained: “The most significant issue is its potential relevance to student survivors given that we still have a long way to go in tackling the broader systemic forces that coalesce in creating the problem in the first place.”

In other words, it is a temporary fix.

So, as a student, old or new, why should you care about Ontario’s new legislation?

“Bill 132 is relevant to the entire university community. Not only is it important that all students, faculty, and staff know about the reforms to sexual violence policies and the specific procedures; each member of the campus community has a responsibility to eliminate sexual violence both within and outside of the university,” Dr. Singh tells us.

It is important to know the changes that are being made, but it is more important to recognize that procedural changes do not change the ideologies our society has adopted in regards to sexual assault and sexual violence.

“Sexual violence is a broader systemic problem, not just one that persists within the confines of the university community.”

“What needs to change is beyond the scope of the legislation in many ways. Sexual violence is a broader systemic problem, not just one that persists within the confines of the university community. In addition, it is a problem that requires far more than individualized responses and reforms, such as the provision of counseling or improved investigations, to tackle. Thus, reporting will be far more relevant in a future context where survivors feel safe and supported enough to make formal reports and adjudications are conducted in a more gender equitable context. We are not at that point now,” suggests Dr. Singh.

Minister Tracy MacCharles, responsible for Woman’s Issues and Accessibility in Ontario, insists that Bill 132 will continue to raise awareness about sexual violence and harassment through campaigns and educational projects.

“It (also) works to inspire generational change by helping students understand the root causes of gender inequality, and what constitutes healthy relationships and consent,” MacCharles expressed to us.

So on one hand, the argument is that Bill 132 is a well-intentioned step in the right direction. On the other hand, the argument is that the bill does not go far enough.

The answer is left up for you to decide. We want to hear from you. Let us know your thoughts in the comments below. 

*Opinions expressed are those of the author, and not necessarily those of Student Life Network or their partners.
Gabriella DeBono

Gabriella DeBono

Gabriella is a former competitive figure skater and current student at Western University. Studying kinesiology and creative writing, naturally her hobbies include lifting weights and reciting e.e Cummings poems (at the same time).