Carleton University released the draft of its sexual violence policy on Oct. 6. Suzanne Blanchard, vice president students and enrolment, sent an email to the student body asking for feedback from the campus community. The feedback must be submitted by Oct. 28.
Blanchard said in an email that the university recognizes sexual violence is a “societal issue.” She said the standalone policy “can serve as a foundation for many other campus initiatives.” The policy addresses support for survivors, prevention and education programs and a transparent complaint process.
Like many universities across Ontario, Carleton created this policy in response to legislation from the provincial government. Bill 132 requires post-secondary schools to have a standalone sexual violence policy, separate from the codes of conduct many schools already have in place. Universities must finalize the document based on feedback from the campus community.
Read through Bill 132
MAP: The green icons represent schools with sexual violence policies in place. Yellow shows the schools with policies in progress and red shows the schools without standalone policies.
Provincial governments in British Columbia, Alberta and Manitoba passed similar mandates. Many of the universities in those provinces created or are in the process of creating standalone sexual violence policies. In other provinces, only a few schools have documents that address sexual assault separately from other non-academic misconduct.
“Sexual violence is a gender-based violence problem and it’s a very specific problem and it should not be conflated with other issues such as harassment or bullying,” said Gabrielle Ross-Marquette, communications coordinator for METRAC, an organization that advocates against gender-based violence.
She said a standalone policy is “survivor-centric. That is what standalone sexual violence policies provide—it’s to recognize that it is a very real problem on campuses across the country.”
Not everyone is impressed with what Carleton has on offer.
“I actually think this policy is not very good,” said Anne-Marie Roy, deputy chairperson of the Canadian Federation of Students.
She felt that Carleton is trying to create a policy “without giving the impression that sexual violence and rape culture are a current problem on campus.”
The policy addresses preventing rape culture, but “doesn’t talk about it as something that is current and ongoing on campus and I find that incredibly problematic.”
“We need to stop pretending that sexual violence is not a problem on campuses. This isn’t a PR game.”
Roy is also concerned that the university hasn’t set aside specific resources to fund their proposed education programs. Further, educational programs aren’t mandatory for students. “The people who perpetuate sexual violence are not necessarily the people who are going to show up to these educational events,” she said.
She also worries that students may want access to support services without making a formal complaint and she doesn’t see any room for this. Ross-Marquette said it’s important for universities to define their different approaches to official reports and disclosures. Not all students need the formal complaint process, but the school can still support them.
The school can provide more support through effective staff training. Roy believes the training is only effective if paired with an expert from the outside community. She expressed concern that administrators will take some basic training and then be responsible for leading the campus through the implementation of their new sexual violence policy. “You don’t become an expert on responding to incidents of sexual violence overnight.”
Both women said one of the keys to a policy’s effectiveness lies in regular review, because Roy said, “none of these policies are going to be perfect.”
The Ontario government requires review every three years, but Ross-Marquette said METRAC recommends every two years, “because every three years you’re almost done a cohort of students.” More frequent reviews allow students to see improvements before they graduate.
Students can currently give feedback using a form on the Carleton website or by emailing email@example.com.
“The participation of the entirety of the campus community in making an effective sexual violence policy is very crucial—it’s essential to tackling the problem of sexual violence,” said Ross-Marquette. “So here’s hoping that the Carleton administration is open to working with the campus community on this.”
Below, see what Gabrielle Ross-Marquette recommends looking at in evaluating a university sexual violence policy.
What to consider when reviewing the sexual violence policy draft
Drafting.Before looking at the document, consider the process of drafting the policy. Were students included in the process? Given that the policy will affect them the most, it’s important to consider their involvement in its creation.
Disclosure and reporting.Reporting and disclosure are not the same thing. Students may want to disclose to someone, without making an official complaint. Will they be able to do so?
Training.How will they ensure staff, faculty, first responders and administration are best prepared to support students? Consider if an expert will be hired or if the school will rely on staff they already have.
Prevention.How will the university work to prevent sexual violence from happening in the first place? Look at the kind of education and training the school will provide to the campus community.
Statistics.How will the university collect statistics and what will they do with the information they collect? Statistics should ideally be used to improve prevention approaches.
The review process.The Ontario government requires a review every three years. METRAC recommends reviewing every two years because it keeps the policy up-to-date and issues are flagged before affected students graduate.
Publicizing the policy.Once it’s been created, how will the university ensure the campus community knows about it?
Carleton’s sexual violence policy draft
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