Nova Scotia

Report on university campus sexual violence calls for culture change

A Nova Scotia committee has released a report with 10 recommendations to help end gender-based violence and sexual assault on university campuses.

University frosh weeks can send a message to students that sexual violence is accepted

Aidan McNally says survivors of sexual assault are often required to be in the same classes and residences as perpetrators and that leads to dropouts. (Elizabeth Chiu/CBC )

From the Saint Mary's University frosh week rape chant to the Dalhousie University dentistry misogyny scandal, for years student activists have been demanding a change in culture on Nova Scotia campuses.

Peter Ricketts, the president of Acadia University, said a sexual violence working group has started exploring the issue at the Annapolis Valley institution. 

"We don't have a stand-alone policy on sexual violence and sexual assault; it's part of a general policy on violence and assault and harassment. We are working to actually create the stand-alone policy."

He said the universities have signed a memorandum of understanding with the province expressing awareness and concern about sexual violence. 

Report calls for education

He spoke as a Nova Scotia committee released a report with 10 recommendations to help end gender-based violence and sexual assault on university campuses.

The report calls on universities to develop sexual violence prevention plans, training to respond to disclosures of sexual assault and bystander education programs.

The 72-page report explores the roots of sexual violence in gender inequality, confusion about consent and "rape culture."

The report notes that university frosh weeks, which often include excessive alcohol consumption, misogynist attitudes and hypersexuality, send a message to students that sexual violence is accepted.

The committee is made up of representatives from the provincial government, universities, student groups and community agencies.

Its recommendations follow up on the province's first report on addressing sexual violence, released in 2015.

Law would force accountability, student says

But the Canadian Federation of Students, which participated in the committee, said that doesn't go far enough. 

"I think it's actually ridiculous that we're giving university presidents the benefit of the doubt that these recommendations will just happen when they do have such a poor track record on this issue," said Aidan McNally, chair of the federation's Nova Scotia branch.

McNally would prefer to see a law introduced to hold schools accountable to take real steps to end sexual violence on campus.

The committee cited statistics that show 20 to 25 per cent of students report being a victim or survivor of sexual violence, a figure that some think is under-reported and likely higher among marginalized groups.

Labi Kousoulis, the provincial minister for advanced education, said cabinet discussed introducing a law, but felt having a committee made up of university and student representatives would have more impact.

With files from The Canadian Press