Regulations to protect sexual violence survivors step in the right direction, says advocate
Regulatory amendments will shield sexual violence survivors from questions that place blame
A Sudbury advocate says new regulatory amendments from the province, meant to protect sexual violence survivors at colleges and universities, are a step in the right direction.
Ontario will require post-secondary institutions to update their sexual violence and harassment policies in order to shield students from irrelevant questions during sexual violence investigations.
The changes, for instance, will prevent colleges and universities from asking students about their sexual history or their use of drugs or alcohol at the time of the alleged incident.
"I think this is a step in the right direction, but there is still a lot of work to be done," said Jacqueline Villeneuve-Ahmed, co-founder of She Matters, a Sudbury-based organization that advocates on behalf of and provides peer support to survivors of sexual violence across Canada.
"Throughout the course of the last year, we have supported students who reported in post-secondary institutions across Canada," Villeneuve-Ahmed said. "And we've seen the lack of sensitivity that the students receive, but also the lack of education that students receive on what their rights actually are following sexual assaults on campuses."
Villeneuve-Ahmed said irrelevant questions about sexual assault surivors' past sexual history, or their sexual expression, are insensitive and place blame on those individuals.
Colleges and universities will have until March 1, 2022, to amend their sexual violence and harassment policies. But Villeneuve-Ahmed said the changes should be implemented immediately.
"As we've seen through recent events, sexual violence on campuses across our country and across North America as a whole are not uncommon," she said. "This is something that we are not talking about enough in Canada, and we need to see action immediately."
Western University students plan walkout
Four students at London, Ontario's Western University reported sexual violence during that university's orientation week.
Students later planned a walkout to show support for survivors of sexual violence, address "the prevalent threat of rape culture on campus and connected underlying issues such as misogyny and queerphobia," according to organizers of the protest.
The province's new regulatory amendments were brought about thanks to advocacy from the Ontario Undergraduate Student Alliance (OUSA). The group represents the interests of 150,000 university students across Ontario.
"We are hopeful that these amendments will make reporting sexual and gender-based violence safer for many students, but we know that there is still so much more that we need to ensure students on our campuses can feel safe and pursue their education without fear," said Nathan R. G. Barnett, OUSA steering committee member and vice-president of university affairs at the Trent Durham Student Association, in a press release.
The organization has made a number of recommendations to prevent and respond to campus sexual and gender-based violence.
Those recommendations include providing supports for survivors of sexual violence and enhancing research and data collection around sexual violence on campuses.
Northern colleges and universities respond
In a written statement, Sudbury's Laurentian University said it welcomed the province's new regulatory amendments.
"Commencing this fall, the university will lead a review and revision of the policy on response and prevention of sexual violence in consultation with the Presidential Task Force on the Prevention of Sexual Violence and university stakeholders, in order to incorporate these important regulatory amendments," the statement said.
Cambrian College spokesperson Dan Lessard said the amendments already align with the Sudbury college's practices.
"We don't delve into someone's sexual history or expression or punish them if they consumed alcohol or drugs if they are reporting they have been sexually assaulted," Lessard said in an email. "That's not the way we do things here. We also don't let an alleged perpetrator use intoxication as an excuse."
Lessard said the spirit of the new requirements are in Cambrian's existing policy, but they will make adjustments if necessary.
With files from Sam Juric