Brandon University halts contracts requiring sex assault victims to keep silent

Brandon University has agreed to end the practice of having victims of sex assault on campus sign "behavioural contracts" that would keep them silent, president and vice-chancellor Gervan Fearon says.

Students previously threatened with suspension or expulsion for speaking out, according to document

Brandon University policy change on sexual assaults

The National

5 years ago
The school would stop asking sexual assault survivors on campus to sign contracts that would keep them silent 2:26

Brandon University has agreed to end the practice of having victims of sex assault on campus sign "behavioural contracts" that would keep them silent, president and vice-chancellor Gervan Fearon says.

"We acknowledged that it is not helpful for the survivor," Fearon told a room of reporters and students Tuesday afternoon on campus in Brandon, Man. "It was inappropriate for us to have used it."
Brandon University president and vice-chancellor Gervan Fearon announced Tuesday the school would stop asking sexual assault survivors on campus to sign contracts limiting who they could speak with about the assault. (CBC)

The policy change comes after We Believe Survivors, a campus group that was formed just 10 days ago, discovered the existence of the contract on a forum it set up for students to post anonymously about their stories of sexual violence on campus.

CBC News spoke with an alleged victim who signed one of the contracts. She was 17 when she was sexually assaulted in a residence at Brandon University in September 2015, she said.

Fearon said a task force was formed following the incident last fall that recommended changing the university's policy.

"I am pleased to report we have acted on that recommendation and will not have any student behavioural contracts in such cases at this university," Fearon said.

The previous contract spelled out that the signer cannot have contact with the other person involved in an incident and that they are not to discuss what happened with anyone else other than a counsellor, although they were not prohibited from reporting the incident to police.

Fingers crossed that good change is coming.- BU student, sexual assault survivor

Fearon said there has only been one sex assault reported to university administration in the past year. He said contracts like the one BU has used in the past are used by other universities in certain contexts, though rarely in cases of sexual assault, and he recognizes they are unhelpful and no longer appropriate.

Steven Robinson, acting vice-president of academic services at BU, said he knows of only two times where a behavioural contract has been used in recent years, the 2015 case being the only one involving sexual assault.

Contracts 'not an uncommon tool'

"They're not an uncommon tool in cases of conflict between students or potentially threatening situations that involve students to encourage them to avoid conflict," he said.

Fearon would not confirm whether anyone involved in drafting the original policy will be disciplined, saying only that the university will "learn from errors and go forward with improvements."

"We take action towards educating, preventing, addressing incidences of sexual violence, assault and harassment here at the university. Categorically, it is clear that a student behavioural contract was used by Brandon University. Categorically, we acknowledge it was not appropriate and is not appropriate, in this case or in cases of sexual assault, sexual violence or sexual harassment," Fearon said.

The task force also recommended the university make advocates readily available to help survivors following an assault, as well as form a committee to review current policies at other Canadian universities. The hope, Fearon said, is to have a "new formal policy" available in September 2016.

Care of student 'paramount'

Sharon Hooper, chief of human resources with BU, chaired the task force formed in October, along with Dean Care, dean of health studies, and Chris Brown, an assistant professor in the faculty of education.
Stefon Irvine, one of the leaders behind We Believe Survivors, said the old behavioural contract could've silenced victims of sexual violence. (Cameron MacIntosh/CBC)

"The care and concern of the student was paramount, as well as to ensure that we identify gaps in our policies, programs and services on campus," Hooper said. "We looked at everything."

Fearon praised the work of student groups who have been working to support survivors and raise awareness about sexual assault on campus. Hooper added members involved with the task force have been in talks with BU student union representatives to determine the next steps as the winter term comes to an end.

"We have great talent on this campus with various groups. We want to have a cross-functional team of people put together, heavily weighted towards students," Hooper said.

Survivor's thoughts on policy change

The student and sexual assault survivor at the centre of the controversy spoke with CBC News after the BU announcement under the condition she not be named.

She said she was happy to see such a supportive crowd at the news conference, but was disappointed that BU associate vice-president of student services Tom Brophy wasn't there.

Brophy previously stood by the university`s use of the behavioural contract under certain circumstances. He said they are meant to "protect students," not to re-victimize assault survivors. Despite standing by the policy, he said there is always "room to improve."

The student said that she is happy to see change is possibly on the way, but said it's unfortunate it has taken this long.

"Fingers crossed that good change is coming," she said.

With files from CBC's Riley Laychuk