Manitoba proposing legislation on sexual violence at universities

Manitoba is introducing legislation that would require universities to bring in policies to prevent and respond to sexual violence.

Province of Manitoba introducing legislation to require universities to have sexual violence policies

University of British Columbia students walk past a sexual assault poster on the campus in Vancouver, B.C., on Wednesday October 30, 2013. (Darryl Dyck/Canadian Press)

All post-secondary institutions in Manitoba would have to bring in policies to prevent and respond to sexual violence on campus under legislation introduced Wednesday.

Education Minister James Allum said the proposed law would require post-secondary institutions to develop policies in consultation with students. Colleges and universities would also have to report publicly about anything related to the policies, he said.

The goal is to make campuses safer and protect students from sexual harassment through prevention efforts and consequences — including expulsion — for offenders, he said.

"The point is to ensure there are consequences in place when a situation occurs, and that those consequences are clear and transparent in the first place," Allum said. "The legislation is intended to ensure that across all campuses in Manitoba action in this regard is being taken."

Experts say at least one in five women is a victim of sexual violence during her post-secondary education. The issue came under a spotlight in 2013 after a video of students at St. Mary's University in Nova Scotia leading frosh students in a chant which promoted rape went viral.

A year later, the president of the University of Ottawa suspended the men's varsity hockey program after allegations of sexual assault involving two members of the team. Early this year, more than a dozen students at Dalhousie University's dentistry faculty in Halifax were suspended after offensive posts about women were made on social media.

Kelby Loeppky, director of the status of women with the University of Winnipeg Students' Association, said Manitoba's proposed legislation marks an end to the silence around sexual violence on campus. Any policy has to include serious consequences for offenders and proper support for survivors, she said.

"It is imperative to provide education for students on consent and ensure students are aware of the policies on their campuses, to shift from a rape culture to a consent culture," she said. "Our work here is not done."

Lyndsay Hersikorn, a counsellor with Klinic Community Health Centre, said many of those seeking help from her organization are students. The most important thing they need is to be believed, she said.

"Historically, that's been a consequence of sexual assault. We need to shift the conversation away from blame and shame to support and care (and) also have our institutions recognize the seriousness of the issue of sexual assault and reflect that in practice."

University of Winnipeg president Annette Trimbee said universities have a responsibility to foster a culture of respect and safety. The campus already has a strong student-driven campaign around consent, she said.

"I'm so proud we already have this policy in place and I think we will meet all the conditions for success that the minister has talked about."


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