After an investigation from the Toronto Star that related accounts of sexual assault at Queen’s, Principal Daniel Woolf has pledged to move forward in creating a specific sexual assault policy.
The Journal published a feature about sexual assault at Queen’s on Oct. 8, later followed by an editorial criticizing University administration for lacking a specific policy for sexual assault. The only policy around sexual assault is in the University’s harassment and discrimination policy, stating that sexual assault as defined by the Criminal Code falls under sexual harassment. The policy was developed in 2000.
Woolf wrote a letter to the editor after the editorial was published, stating that Queen’s is committed to individualizing support for survivors.
After the Star‘s investigation was published on Nov. 20, Woolf released a public statement through the Queen’s Gazette regarding the story, and later a video message, stating that he’s instructed the Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Working Group to expedite recommendations for the University to enhance and create programs and initiatives to deal with sexual assault, including a sexual assault policy.
While Woolf said he’ll ask the working group to make its recommendations and findings publicly available by the end of the school year, some initiatives and programs will be introduced before the end of the year.
Woolf said he responded to the Star‘s story because it had used wording that implied a lack of interest, stating that he had “refused” an interview.
“We provided lots of information to the Star but what we refused to do was discuss the specific cases and they were quite insistent that that’s what they wanted to talk about,” he said.
“But I did feel I had to set the record straight that we were treating this issue very seriously — we have been for a while,” he added. “I thought that it was best that I indicate to the community that we would be prioritizing this and I would be speaking in the near future to the working group just to encourage them to pursue their work on a perhaps more aggressive timetable than they were doing.”
In his letter to the Journal, Woolf wrote that every case of sexual assault needs to be handled in an individualized manner.
“I think we have to have an individualized approach because cases are very different and one size does not fit all,” he said.
He added that it’s clear that universities are moving towards standalone sexual assault policies.
“I do not believe for a minute that a policy will fix all the problems to do with sexual assault,” he said.
“This is about a longer-term strategy, this is about education, this is about a whole bunch of things. But I also don’t think that a policy will hurt, and if indeed it provides clarity for victims and survivors as to where they should turn, how they will be supported, by whom, and clarity to how staff and faculty should deal with cases, then I think the policy will be a good thing.”
What a policy might look like is still unclear.
“We want to proceed with some dispatch but we also want to be careful that it’s a good policy,” he said.
“From my mind, the key is support for survivors. Leaving aside issues of adjudication, legal proceedings against alleged perpetrators, we must focus on the support for those who are in a situation where they have been sexually assaulted and it does seem that there has been a bit of a lack of clarity around where to turn and who to turn to and how people who are appealed to should react, and I think that should certainly be a major focus of the policy.”
Arig al Shaibah, chair of the working group and assistant dean of Student Affairs, said the working group was established proactively in July 2013, rather than in response to specific incidents. Its mandate is to organize efforts to prevent and respond to sexual assault on campus.
al Shaibah said the working group had been looking at a specific sexual assault policy as of a “couple of months” ago.
“We were looking at our existing policy, the harassment and discrimination policy, and wondering if we should think about standalone sexual assault policy and so that would have been something that would have been recommended,” she said.
While the working group would be the one to recommend a policy, there would be a number of bodies involved in contributing to a policy’s key components.
“Clearly some of the best practices are putting in information about clear protocols and procedures, making the community aware of the actual resources and services that are available,” she said.
al Shaibah added that they’re looking at policies from other universities, with the University of Guelph’s sexual assault protocol at the “top of the list”. Guelph’s protocol was implemented in 2011, and provides a list of on-campus and off-campus resources, a description of the ways students can report incidents of sexual assault and a definition of what constitutes sexual assault.
In his Nov. 20 statement, Woolf said he would meet with the working group within two weeks; al Shaibah said the meeting’s tentative date is Dec. 2.
Rector Mike Young said in developing a specific sexual assault policy, Queen’s needs to take into account how it’s different from other universities and ensure the policy is “very friendly” to Queen’s and the community.
“[The policy is] not only a way to hold the University accountable in their actions but also it’s just not really fair to expect some people to deal with these things without some guidance or a policy to work with,” said Young, ConEd ’15.
“I think it’s helpful for both sides, both for students to know where to go and also for university people to understand their roles, their responsibilities and perhaps it’ll lead to more training so people know exactly how to work with the policy.”
Young said he’s reached out to students for consultation on what they think a sexual assault policy should look like and how they feel about Woolf’s statements on sexual assault.
“I obviously have my thoughts about what needs to be done and what a good policy would look like and what needs to be accounted for, but I represent 24,000 independent thinkers, so I need those thoughts badly,” he said.
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