Alberta student associations push for standardized sexual violence policies
One in every five women attending university or college will experience sexual violence, stats show
Statistics indicate that post-secondary students across Canada are vulnerable to sexual violence on campus — and in Alberta, there are currently no standardized policies to prevent it at universities or colleges. But three student-led organizations are working together to change that.
The Alberta Students' Executive Council (ASEC), the Students' Association at SAIT (SAITSA) and Students for Consent Culture Canada (SFCC) are recommending the Government of Alberta implement nine policies to help fight sexual violence on campus.
Garrett Koehler, the chair of ASEC and vice president external for SAITSA, said that they were galvanized by studies that suggest one in every five women attending university or college will experience sexual violence — while at least one in five transgender, genderqueer and non-conforming university and college students have experienced sexual assault.
And although there aren't statistics available for men who experience sexual violence on campus, one in six men will experience sexual violence in their lifetimes, according to RAINN.
"When I first heard these [statistics], I just couldn't believe that one in five women are going to be affected by this, in their studies, by someone they know. That's ridiculous," Koehler said Tuesday on the Homestretch.
"So I approached Alberta Students' Executive Council, struck a committee, got the policies ready, and I've been advocating ever since."
All schools have some policies pertaining to sexual violence on campus, Koehler said. But without standardization, they vary from institution to institution.
"Why is a sexual violence case treated differently at NAIT, to SAIT, to Bow Valley, to Mount Royal, to U of A? We need a standard system," Koehler said.
The policies they are recommending are guidelines that were first introduced by SFCC, Koehler said — a nationwide organization dedicated to anti-sexual violence advocacy and activism on university and college campuses.
The students behind the SFCC published a document called OurPlan in 2017, which serves as a toolkit student unions can use to fight campus sexual violence with "evidence-based programs and effective action."
"[We] chose nine of the Students for Consent Culture policies that we would have liked to see mandated for all post-secondary institutions to have, to protect survivors in the reporting process," Koehler said.
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They are currently having conversations about the recommendations with Leela Aheer, minister of culture, multiculturalism and status of women, and Demetrios Nicolaides, the minister of advanced education, Koehler said.
The next steps will be to make robust legislation, he said, to ensure institutions roll recommendations out effectively.
"We will be convening a group of students [and] community stakeholders to sit down, look at these nine recommended policies, make sure that we include all the different nuances," Koehler said.
The policies, Koehler said, are "survivor-centric," which means the policy must address and favour the survivor while the process is completed. They include:
- A specific immunity clause for minor drug and alcohol use, which could prevent athletes who are forbidden from drinking or drug use during varsity trips from reporting if they are assaulted while under the influence.
- Protection from face-to-face encounters between the survivor and accused during the complaint process, with both parties able to adjust their class schedule to reduce contact.
- Anonymous and third-party complaint options that allow survivors, or those close to survivors, to be able to report in cases where the respondent may be in a position of authority.
- Recognition of the intersectional impacts of sexual violence, and that identity-based oppression can affect or increase an individual's likelihood of being sexually assaulted.
- Sexual violence support and sensitivity training for all those involved in the complaint process.
- Independent third-party member of the appeal committee.
- Clear timelines that ensure due process and that institutions investigate complaints in a timely manner.
Following Ontario's precedent
To put Alberta's lack of standardized policy in context, the Council of Alberta University Students studied post-secondary institutions across Canada and released its findings in February.
Its Sexual Violence on Campus report stated that Ontario was the first province to introduce mandatory campus sexual assault policies in 2015.
After the Sexual Violence and Harassment Action Plan Act passed, all post-secondary institutions in the province were required to have a sexual violence policy in place.
"When we talked to students at these institutions, we heard the same story over and over. Sexual violence is a pervasive issue on Canadian post-secondary campuses," the action plan reads.
"Students continue to advocate for change — and are met with inaction or outright opposition from their administrations."
Between 2016 and 2018, British Columbia, Quebec, Manitoba and Prince Edward Island all enacted similar policies.
Alberta, Saskatchewan, New Brunswick and Newfoundland and Labrador have yet to follow suit, while Nova Scotia currently has a bill before its assembly.
- An earlier version of this story did not cite the Council of Alberta University Students. We regret the error.Mar 12, 2020 1:06 PM MT
Wiith files from The Homestretch and Tricia Kindleman