Sexual assault policy: Are we there yet?

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Generalizations and vague promises are inadequate responses to sexual assault. 

On March 4, the Board of Trustees approved Queen’s sexual violence policy, just days before provincial legislation was released requiring all schools to have a standalone policy by January 2017. 

After a Toronto Star investigation in November 2014 found that Queen’s was failing sexual assault survivors, the University began a journey through working groups, implementation teams, recommendations, drafts, interim protocols and student feedback periods — all leading up to the approval of a final policy. 

And it still needs work

There are definite positives to this policy, besides the bare minimum that it finally exists. Definitions of sexual assault and consent provide much-needed clarification and justification for victims who may be hesitant to report. 

Creating the Office of Sexual Violence Education and Support as a central contact will also be critical to providing survivors with the resources they need. 

But the policy tip-toes around how this will practically be accomplished. 

While the policy has a long list of responsibilities for the Office, that Office is non-existent, and we don’t have a timeline for when it will be a reality. Given how long it took to create a policy, who knows how long an Office will take to set up.   

The only resource mentioned for the Office is a coordinator. But it will take more than the one coordinator to run an office that’s been tasked with providing counseling, reporting advice, academic accommodations and preventative education.

These necessary services aren’t without their price tag, which makes the report’s statement that “The policy itself has no financial implications” particularly worrying. Given the University’s strapped financial situation, an administrative unwillingness to put money where its mouth is could be a potential barrier to this policy’s implementation and effectiveness.  

Another major loophole is that the Bader International Study Centre isn’t mentioned at all. Students at Queen’s Herstmonceux, England campus may require just as much support, but they won’t have access to the sexual violence coordinator — once they’re hired. 

The first step is for the University to put this new legislated support in place. 

But, an equally important step is for the University to make the promised support accessible to survivors of sexual assault. 

This means advertising those resources in a clear, non-threatening manner. Some of the worst words for survivors to hear are “policy” or “procedure.” We need a system that encourages reporting and provides ongoing support. 

In doing this, we need to keep in mind that college-age women are the most likely to be assaulted. This means there’s no need for us to assume that reported incidents of sexual assault mean Queen’s is a particularly immoral school.   

However, what does reflect poorly on Queen’s is a failure to address the issue adequately. 

At the moment, our sexual assault policy has the same impact as a university degree — it’s a nice piece of paper to hang on the wall, but it doesn’t mean anything unless it lives up to its promises. 

Journal Editorial Board

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