The University of Victoria is creating a new office and staff team to support students with sexual violence prevention and education, just in time for students heading back to classes.
The changes follow a university policy review last spring, in keeping with a provincially mandated requirement universities put in place a sexual misconduct policy in the wake of allegations schools were failing students by not having one.
More hands-on support and education were needed on campus, said Leah Shumka, the sexualized violence education and prevention co-ordinator at UVic.
"UVic had policies and resources in place to address sexual harassment in the past, but this new policy and new office address the issues more directly and effectively with increased education and training," Shumka told CBC On the Island host Gregor Craigie.
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The creation of the sexualized violence education and prevention resource office means students will have access to a central office located on campus, where they can drop by to find out more information about sexual misconduct policies, report an incident or seek support.
"We are really this sort of central hub to get [students] everything they need as quickly as possible," Shumka said. "But we are also the place on campus where if somebody wants to file a more official report in hopes of initiating an investigation — that would happen through our office as well."
Shrumka said UVic already collects information related to sexualized violence through campus security and through violations of the institution's discrimination and harassment policy, but since these issues are typically under-reported she says the policy will provide an opportunity to collect a broader set of data about sexual violence on campus, while respecting confidentiality.
She said she couldn't speak to UVic's statistics specifically but, across North America in general, an estimated one in five university students experience sexual violence in some form,
UVic's policies are part of a larger movement towards sexual violence prevention on university campuses. Last year, the provincial government passed legislation requiring all public post-secondary institutions to create sexual misconduct policies by May 19, 2017.
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As the new term starts next week, many of those new policies are being implemented for the first time.
Shumka said now, with the new policies in place, universities need to focus on spreading the word and raising awareness to incoming students about the changes.
"We have a much longer term plan and strategy around making sure that students and staff and faculty, before they even arrive on campus in coming years, will have an [educational] package about this."
To hear more of the interview with Leah Shumka, click on the audio link below:
With files from On The Island.
An earlier version of this story said UVic had no current statistics on sexual violence. In fact, the university says it does, but the number is not accurate because these issues are typically under-reported.Sep 08, 2017 1:10 PM PT