This article discusses sexual assault and may be triggering for some readers. The Kingston Sexual Assault Centre’s 24-hour crisis and support phone line can be reached at 613-544-6424 / 1-800-544-6424. The Journal uses “survivor” to refer to those who have experienced sexual assault. We acknowledge this term is not universal.
The Ontario government has announced new regulatory amendments addressing instances of sexual violence at postsecondary institutions in an attempt to protect survivors. Although a commendable action, the amendments are still a far cry from a satisfying solution to the prevalence of sexual violence on campuses.
In response to the recent numerous sexual assault allegations at Western University, colleges and universities must implement two main changes to their sexual violence policies. Those reporting incidents of sexual violence cannot be punished for actions in violation of the institution’s alcohol and drug policies at the time the violence took place, and staff will not be permitted to ask “irrelevant” questions, “such as those relating to past sexual history or sexual expression,” of those coming forward during the investigation process.
While a step in the right direction towards—hopefully—making it safer for students to speak up about sexual violence at postsecondary institutions, the new mandates don’t cover nearly enough ground. For one, they’re vague: there’s little explanation as to what constitutes an ‘irrelevant’ question and who gets to decide the definition. At the same time, the amendments have nothing to say about glaring gaps in many institutions’ sexual violence policy, such as how they are intended to interact with the legal practices of reporting sexual assaults.
According to statistics from the Ontario Court of Justice criminal court, in 2021 sexual assault cases were settled only after an average of approximately 330 days. If perpetrators can still interact with survivors on campus during this time, the situation can inflict more damage with each passing day.
Queen’s sexual violence policy already includes protection for complainants in violation of the school’s drug and alcohol policy. As a university, we’re currently ahead of the government—albeit a low bar. Let’s hope the trend continues.
Meanwhile, the provincial government’s reactive announcement focuses on supporting survivors after violence has already occurred—an important and necessary step—yet ignores preventative measures to discourage sexual violence from happening at all. This is also the same government that previously scrapped updated sex education from elementary schools that covered topics including consent.
The lack of preventative education, even before students attend university feed into the dangerous circumstances in postsecondary communities. Rape culture remains incredibly pervasive in our society, and institutions must be actively working to disrupt and dismantle it.
The wellbeing and safety of survivors should be at the forefront of institutions’ policy changes. But the government’s amendments would be more effective if they also mandated consent education similar preventative action to drive institutions towards stopping violence from occurring at all.
At the end of the day, the circumstances at Western have shown institutions aren’t doing enough to combat sexual violence. Ontario’s mandates are a start, but schools must strive for better.
—Journal Editorial Board
Ontario government, sexual violence policy
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