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

Written by Gabriella DeBono

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

Which is ridiculous.

If you or a friend are a victim, we’ve published a comprehensive guide to reporting a sexual assault here

The stats suck. 

A nationwide student survey has found that Canadian universities average a C- in how their policies deal with sexual violence on campus.

The survey was conducted by a student-led organization called Our-Turn. Their full action plan is available here.

Last year, Now Toronto posted a jarring piece outlining how universities across Canada silence and abandon victims of sexual assault.

Statistics surrounding sexual assault in this country are hard to find. Canada’s informational site looks like a computer project circa 2001—compared to America’s sexual assault resource site, RAINN. Statistics are often problematic when they are found.

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.

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.

And it gets worse. 

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

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,” says Kay.

Bill 132.

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 sexual assault policies, if they exist. 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.

The Response to Sexual Violence on Ontario University Campuses.

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, reforming university reporting and investigative procedures will not likely address the needs of most 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. We still have a long way to go in tackling the broader systemic forces that create the problem.”

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. It’s important that students, faculty, and staff all know about the reforms. Each member of the campus community has a responsibility to eliminate sexual violence,” Dr. Singh tells us.

It is important to know the changes that are coming. But it’s more important to recognize that procedural changes don’t change our society’s view of 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. The provision of counseling or improved investigations, for example. Thus, reporting will be far more relevant in a future context where survivors feel safe and supported. We are not at that point now,” suggests Dr. Singh.

We need awareness.

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

“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.

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