Student Advocates Seek Action on Sexualized Violence Policies

| Chantelle Spicer | On March 18, student advocates from across the country met in Ottawa to discuss an impending national framework to guide post-secondary institutions in their implementation of anti-violence policies. The framework will act as a comprehensive resource to guide post-secondary institutions’ actions in preventing and addressing gender-based violence on campus.

This work is part of the mandate given to Minister Maryam Monsef following her appointment as Minister of the newly created Department of Women and Gender Equality. The new Department replaces the Standing Committee on the Status of Women in Canada, of which Monsef is the former Chair. The work is being undertaken by an advisory council within the Department and includes members who have extensive experience in preventing and addressing gender-based violence in a post-secondary setting.

Thirty “listening and learning” sessions have or will take place throughout March and early April, along with open, online submissions, will make the consultation process, with input being specifically gathered from student-led organisations such as Silence is Violence from the University of Toronto, third-party organizations that exist in post-secondary institutions, as well as administrators and counsellors from across the country. The process is being funded by $5.5 million dollars over 5 years as part of the 2018 budget.

During the March 18 session, students who have experience in anti-violence advocacy had the opportunity to discuss the realities of the implementation of the legislated post-secondary policies, procedures, and educational campaigns.

Many students are skeptical of not only the implementation of policies on campuses, but also the ability of a national framework to improve the experiences of survivors.

Mira El Hussein of the student-led movement Silence is Violence states, “Consultations and frameworks are important, of course, but I’m personally concerned about the possibility that this framework will not include any form of accountability measures to hold these institutions responsible for their treatment of survivors.”

Hussein explains that as universities are implementing anti-sexualized violence policies, there are issues around the policies and procedures being  unclear, maintaining the institution’s interests above those of survivors, and are essentially brought in to tick off a checkbox as opposed to actually enact any meaningful, structural change. A recent report from Silence is Violence Again outlined all these issues and more.

“We have been doing the work. We have been consulting our communities. We have been fighting,” Hussein states. “I’m hard pressed to believe that a framework will come close to solving the problems of chronic underfunding of services, fundamental administrative neglect, and an unwillingness to listen to voices that so desperately need to be heard, like the voices of IBPOC survivors, 2SLGBTQ survivors, disabled survivors, survivors who are sex workers etc. With all that said, I’m looking forward to seeing the actual draft soon, I think that that will be a defining moment.”

Currently, the Selkirk College Students’ Union is analyzing the College’s Sexual Violence Prevention and Response Policy through criteria outlined by the national organistaion Students for Consent Culture (formerly Our Turn). This analysis could help direct education to be incorporated into student and residence orientation for the Fall 2019 semester. The College is scheduled to review the policy in January of 2020, providing plenty of time for consideration and incorporation of student concerns that may arise from the current review.

The College has undertaken some work to educate the campus community on the issues of violence and harassment. This includes the development of a hand guide and web content offering direction for those who have experienced violence.

Despite this, Rebekkah Ankenmann, Director at-Large at the SCSU, is concerned about the shortfalls in the policy and resources available for students.

“Being critical of institutional sexual violence policy is of utmost important as these are the policies that determined how we will be treated at our most vulnerable points. Allowing full power of this process to be put into the institution creates an imbalance towards the students. It is our education and lives that are going to be strongly impacted. Policy needs to be centred around making the survivor feel empowered to make the decisions that are right for them. Policy needs to leave the antiquated perspective of protecting the institution in the past.”

Connor Spencer, Outreach Coordinator for the SFCC, explains the importance of considering the unique need of rural campuses in this work.

“We need to make sure that rural campuses are not being left out of discussions about concrete ways we can address campus sexual violence – there needs to be a recognition that the realities for rural campuses looks different and therefore the solutions need to be different. Provinces need to commit more funding, regional committees that can do external investigations and oversight need to be set up, and confidentiality needs to be handled in a way that understands the needs of a smaller community.”

This work is part of a larger national conversation, particularly following the recent release of province-wide survey results undertaken by the Ontario Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities. Results showed that 63% of university students and 50% of college students reported they have experience some type of sexual harassment.

The draft National Framework is scheduled to be announced and presented in May.