Spotlight: Campus Sexual Violence Prevention and Response in Ontario

We’re excited to finally share that OUSA, along with our national partners, has published Shared Perspectives: A Joint Publication on Campus Sexual Violence Prevention and Response! In January, we came together from coast to coast  to begin this project and draw attention to the issue of sexual violence on university and college campuses. More importantly, we came together to support survivors, learn from each other, and bring forward solutions at both provincial and national levels. Over the last two years important legislative and policy changes have been made in Ontario, but there are gaps and challenges that remain. Students continue to experience sexual violence on their campuses and survivors face barriers in reporting and accessing support services. OUSA continues to advocate for more concrete commitment and action from the provincial government to tackle the current campus culture. In this publication we provide an environmental scan of what has been happening in our province.

Here are the key things you should know:

  • In 2016 the provincial legislature passed Bill 132, which set guidelines for institutions in the development of their campus sexual violence policies.
  • Since the enactment of the Sexual Violence and Harassment Action Plan Act (Bill 132), all universities must have set in place stand-alone sexual violence policies, include student input in the revision/ development of the policies, and provide data and information to the Ministry of Advanced Education and Skills Development (MAESD) on the supports and mechanisms set in place as related to sexual violence prevention and response (SVPR).
  • While the legislation was designed with the intention of empowering institutions to develop their own policies, and to ensure adaptability, students, survivors, and experts in the field have voiced their concerns over the lack of clarity, timelines, and detail within Bill 132 and affected regulations, as well as a lack of ministerial oversight.
  • OUSA has long advocated for increased oversight and stewardship from the provincial government, releasing our policy paper on SVPR in the fall of 2016. Our recommendations included establishing a sexual violence prevention unit within MAESD, responsible for the analysis of policies and data, providing recommendations to the Ministry, as well as setting minimum standards to ensure policies are survivor-centric and evidence-based.
  • In 2017, the student led advocacy group, Our Turn, analyzed the sexual violence policies of several universities and colleges in Ontario since the implementation of Bill 132. Their report revealed significant issues within school policies, including gag orders and the absence of rape shield protections. Like OUSA, the group calls on the government to provide more guidance in the development of procedures and policies, as well as to ensure that there are mechanisms in place to hold institutions accountable.
  • This year MAESD also launched its provincial campus climate survey, Student Voices on Sexual Violence. OUSA has pushed for accurate and standardized data collection over the last several years. The survey had over 160,000 respondents and gathered data on the beliefs, attitudes, and statuses of sexual violence on university and college campuses.
  • No updates have been given from the Ministry on when or how exactly the information will be released. It’s vital, however, that the reports are made easily accessible and transparent to students and the public.

May is Sexual Assault Prevention Month. While efforts to combat sexual violence is an ongoing and collective effort, this month reinforces the importance of taking the tangible step of being a meaningful ally for sexual assault survivors. Actions you can take to demonstrate your allyship include: believing survivors of sexual assault, providing support to survivors, and informing others on the importance of consent. As well, meaningful allyship requires an intersectional understanding of sexual assault, with an emphasis on how sexual violence disproportionately impacts Indigenous people, people of colour, and LGBTQ+ people. Holding and sharing these principles are crucial steps in changing social attitudes that enable sexual assault to continue.

If you’re looking for an easy way to show your support and allyship, share our Shared Perspectives publication and join students across the country demanding for more government and public action towards ending sexual assault on Ontario’s campuses.

Written By: Martyna Siekanowciz and Mackenzie Claggett