Sex assault response training rolling out on Ontario campuses is 'critical'

Western University researchers are launching a training for campus faculty, staff across Canada to help them respond to disclosures and reports of sexual violence.

Creators of training program says myths about sexual violence have 'permeated our thinking'

Barb MacQuarrie, community director of the Centre for Research and Education on Violence Against Women and Children at Western University, created a workshop on addressing domestic violence at work. (Paul Borkwood/CBC)

Students who come forward about their experiences with sexual violence on campuses should be met with a supportive response, according to researchers at Western University, who are launching a training program across Ontario campuses. 

The "Responding to Disclosures of Sexual Violence" training was developed over three years by a team at the university's Centre for Research & Education on Violence Against Women & Children. 

"It's critical," said project manager Barb MacQuarrie. "We really need this training." 

The training consists of videos of a wide range of students of various abilities, races, genders and sexual orientations disclosing or reporting an incident of sexual violence, and examples of supportive responses: 

  • It's not your fault
  • It must not have been easy to come to me with this 
  • This guy has no right to post those pictures of you

And unsupportive responses: 

  • How were you dressed? 
  • Are you sure it was a rape? 
  • Sending those photos of yourself to anyone is never a good idea

'It can do great harm'

MacQuarrie said if a survivor does not receive a supportive response, a person can shut down and never tell anyone again, or wait a long time to tell someone. She said a negative response can also reinforce self blame. 

"It can do great harm," she said. "The impacts are long-lasting." 

The impetus of the provincially-funded project was to educate staff and faculty — anyone from professors to janitors —on post-secondary campuses on the best way to react and respond to those who come forward, and direct them to support on and off campus. 

So far, about a dozen schools have signed on for the training, including Western, the University of Toronto, the University of Windsor and York University. 

"We want people to be received appropriately and not be shut down," said Joanie Pritchett, manager of the Centre for Sexual Violence Response Support and Education at York.

"It's really about teaching emotional intelligence."

Standalone sexual assault policies 

The development of the training followed new legislation brought in by the Ontario Liberal government in 2016 that mandated all universities and colleges have a standalone sexual assault policy by January 2017 amid pressure from advocates and several high profile cases.

University of Ottawa hockey players were charged with sexually assaulting a girl during a trip to Thunder Bay in 2014. That same year, a Facebook group of dentistry students at Dalhousie University was discovered to include misogynistic statements about female classmates. In 2013, a video from Saint Mary's University showed students chanting about non-consensual sex with underage girls

Statistics Canada data shows nearly half of all sexual assault happen to women aged 15 to 24. MacQuarrie hopes more schools will adopt the training to reduce the numbers. 

"The idea it matters what somebody was wearing ... whether they were drinking or whether they had done another kind of drug. We all operate under these myths that have permeated our thinking for so long." 

MacQuarrie's team consulted with survivors, and an advisory committee from six universities and three colleges.

About the Author

Lisa Xing is a journalist by trade and a historian by degree. She's also a creative writer, photographer and traveller. Email her at