Queen’s has failed sexual assault survivors

Queen’s administration should be condemned for lacking an official policy for handling sexual assaults on campus.

Currently, if a student wishes to file a sexual assault case with the University, their only option is the Human Rights Office (HRO), which treats instances of sexual assault as sexual harassment complaints.

Sexual assault is a severe concern that warrants its own policy. In 2013, 11.4 per cent of Queen’s students surveyed by Health, Counselling, and Disability Services (HCDS) reported being sexually touched without their consent in the past year. 2.1 per cent reported being sexually penetrated without their consent.

There’s only one reference to sexual assault in Queen’s 14-year-old harassment and discrimination policy — a notice that “sexual assault under the Criminal Code” falls under the University’s definition of sexual harassment.

The creation of a new three-member Complaint Board for each case — the University’s current procedure for handling sexual harassment cases — is an ambiguous and ineffective system. It isn’t clear how the members appointed to these boards are qualified to deal with sexual assault or the specific contents of each case.

The University emphasizes safety services on campus — including blue lights and Walkhome — to prospective students during campus tours.

Despite this semblance of prevention, 46 per cent of female students don’t feel safe in the University District, according to the HCDS survey. The onus is on the University and the City to ensure their population feels safe in their own neighbourhoods.

This fall term, Queen’s launched its first support group for survivors of sexual assault: the Psycho-Educational Group for Survivors of Sexual Assault. This initiative should have been launched years ago, and its current cap of 10 to 12 students is inadequate.

For all its peacocking, the University has demonstrated an unwillingness to be proactive in addressing sexual assault.

Students can press a blue light if they’re being assaulted; they can go to Kingston General Hospital for a rape kit; they can go to the Peer Support Centre (PSC) or HCDS for support or counselling. But they’re never told how or to whom they should formally report an attack.

A clear procedure needs to be established between these services on where survivors should be directed. They shouldn’t be shuffled from resource to resource seemingly at random; this only further deters victims from stepping forward, as they have to relive their trauma over and over.

There exists a major discrepancy in reports of sexual assault between different campus and community organizations. From January to September 2013, Kingston police recorded 31 sexual assaults in Zones 1 and 4, which comprise Queen’s campus and the student housing area.

That year, Campus Security received just one report of sexual assault. The Kingston Sexual Assault Centre estimates that 90 per cent of its clients don’t report their assaults.

Queen’s administration and other campus organizations should be faulted for low and varied reporting rates. It indicates that students don’t feel safe reporting sexual assault.

This discrepancy has only been made worse by ineffective reporting systems. HCDS currently tracks reports on paper, rather than in a computerized database. Paper records are inefficient and insufficient in this technological age. It demonstrates a lack of concern and effort to change.

It’s time for the University to take an active, educational presence on this issue and disseminate knowledge on how members of the Queen’s community can effectively access resources.

Campus organizations should spearhead campaigns that directly engage and educate students — not simple poster campaigns, as HCDS has done in the past five years.

At this time, Queen’s needs to implement a clear, transparent policy for handling sexual assault.

A University panel tasked specifically and explicitly with handling sexual assault cases should be established. The University’s governing bodies, provost and principal must make a public statement to address their dormancy on sexual assault. They’ve passively borne witness to an issue that’s plagued the student body for too long.

Students deserve to feel safe at their university. What more has to happen before Queen’s will act?

Journal Editorial Board

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