Sexual violence prevention and response is a topic that is often difficult to deal with. The stats are bleak: best estimates suggest that between 20% and 25% of young women will be sexually assaulted during their first four years of university, with the risk being especially high in the first two years; in three-quarters of incidents, the attacker is known to the survivor; and while false allegations are extremely rare, survivors and victims of sexual violence continue to be stigmatized by their experiences.
The fact that this has become an important policy issue in the eyes of Premier Kathleen Wynne and the Minister of Advanced Education and Skills Development Deb Matthews, is both disheartening and inspiring. There is much work ahead of the post-secondary sector, but never before has there been as much political will and community support behind survivors as there has been in the last two years. Since our presentation to the Select Committee on Sexual Violence and Harassment in May of 2014, OUSA has been heavily involved in the development of new legislation and regulation in support of the provincial Sexual Violence Action Plan. At our General Assembly this month, we turned our attention inward in order to develop the organization’s first standalone sexual violence policy.
Delegates worked hard to make this a sound, comprehensive document outlining their perspectives on where the province should direct its attention over the next few years. Rather than dwell in negativity or get drawn into conflict, delegates worked collaboratively and compassionately to refine our recommendations in the hopes of inciting positive change for survivors. We’ve taken a balanced approaching looking at prevention (through education, training, and environmental design), institutional compliance, data collection and sharing, and response—specifically, making disclosure and formal reporting processes safer and more supportive, identifying appropriate consequences, and investigating additional possibilities for resolution. Despite these varied and far reaching recommendations, one thing is made clear: there is no place for violence, or the threat of violence, in academic environments.
The primary goal of this policy is to acknowledge and address the underlying causes of sexual violence—gender inequality, problematic constructions of masculinity, and power and patriarchy—while at the same time offering realistic and actionable suggestions to government. Our student members believe that there is much more the province could be doing to lead their universities through the process of implementing new sexual violence policies and procedures. Throughout our own policy, we identify areas in need of additional government leadership.
Our intention is to create campus communities that allow individuals who have experienced sexual violence the agency to identify themselves as they wish, and seek the supports and services most conducive to their healing. We are proud to offer this policy as a blueprint for the government on behalf the students and survivors among our membership.
You can read the policy brief and the full policy paper here.