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 Centre’s online chat feature can be reached here. The Journal uses “survivor” to refer to those who have experienced sexual assault. We acknowledge this term is not universal.
Though Queen’s Sexual Violence Prevention and Response Services (SVRPS) has tremendously upgraded from previous policies, it still needs to increase its transparency.
An external review by the Canadian Centre for Legal Innovation in Sexual Assault Response (CCLISAR)—in addition to calling SVPRS rigorous and highly professional—gave Queen’s 21 recommendations for improving its policy and procedural response. Among their suggestions was that Queen’s publish more detailed information on its sexual violence complainants and outcomes.
Students who wish to bring their experiences with sexual violence to SVPRS can do so by submitting a complaint or making a disclosure. According to SVPRS policy, disclosures are for students to share information and receive support, counseling, or accommodations. Complaints are formal, written allegations of sexual violence for students who wish to launch an investigation into their experience.
Despite collecting statistics about both disclosures and complaints, SVPRS only publicly reports on complaints.
Many students who experience sexual violence may not choose to pursue an investigation. Reporting only on complaints and not disclosures therefore omits many encounters, painting a skewed depiction of sexual violence at Queen’s.
Between May 2022 and April 2023, SVPRS reports having received 26 complaints of sexual violence but being contacted by 236 students. Presumably, knowing the number of disclosures would help narrow the gap between those statistics.
Protecting the privacy of survivors of sexual violence is paramount, but the University could release more data without revealing the identities of survivors. It would be useful, for example, for students to know which groups are primarily targeted by sexual violence, or where repeated incidents occur.
Having this information could help students protect themselves, even if only by reminding them of their vulnerability.
Reporting only on complaints and not disclosures also implies the experiences of survivors who choose to pursue an investigation are more serious than those who don’t.
All survivors should be free to handle their experiences in whatever way brings them peace and without external judgement—whether they request an investigation or only counseling.
Having more statistics on sexual violence equally expands the conversation around it. Normalizing discussions about sexual violence can reduce the shame survivors experience that so often encumbers them from reporting or seeking counseling.
More statistics on case outcomes will help students understand that Queen’s takes sexual violence seriously. Such understanding can encourage survivors to make use of SVPRS’s services, while potential perpetrators may be dissuaded from committing violence by understanding the full breadth of sanctions they could face.
The implementation of previous feedback, like changing the tone of communication with student respondents to be more accessible and less laden with legal jargon, is a testament to SVPRS’s willingness to address students’ wishes.
Students can’t expect the SVPRS to represent their interests without having expressed them through participation in available consultations and surveys.
SVPRS will be hosting student consultations this semester to discuss the changes the CCLISAR’s review proposed before looking into implementing them. For the betterment of student satisfaction and safety, students must take advantage of this opportunity for communication.
—Journal Editorial Board
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