Queen’s University’s report on sexual violence revealed a significant increase in requests for Sexual Violence Prevention and Response Services (SVPRS) last year.
Queen’s released its fifth report on provincially mandated sexually violence data to the Board of Trustees on Sept. 29. Students filed 26 complaints of sexual violence last year, where sexual harassment made up 22 of the complaints.
“What struck us was the scope of commitment and complexity of it. Sexual violence treatment has to be highly individualized thus we have developed an appreciate for that,” said Nancy Evans, executive director (corporate affairs and strategic initiatives) at Smith School of Business, at Board of Trustees.
Board members commented on the six reported cases of sexual exploitation, an offense which hasn’t seen any complaints over the previous three reporting periods. The reported statistic skews the picture of sexual exploitation at Queen’s because of the format of the statistics required by government guidelines, Provost Matthew Evans explained.
“Technically it went from zero to one, but because there were six people, we were required to report it,” Evans said at Board.
The ministry requires universities to record every incident and complaint made by students. At Queen’s one complaint may be captured within multiple offense counts because of the nature of the incident.
Sexual exploitation involves taking advantage of another person through non-consensual or abusive sexual control according to the Ontario Ministry of Colleges and Universities. This includes distributing, recording, or photographing people involved in sexual acts without their consent.
Between May 2022 and April 2023, 337 individuals contacted the SVPRS, 236 of whom were students. During the previous period SVPRS received a total of 221 requests for service.
In response to requests, the SVPRS team logged almost 1,500 actions. Actions included consultations, referrals, and providing individuals with supporting documentation.
“[Requests include] the number of people coming to the office and asking for information or support for a variety of things. It could be ‘I need a referral to student wellness, or I need information about my options, or I need academic considerations, or I want to make a complaint.’ It’s all of those things,” Barbara Lotan, SVPRS coordinator said in an interview with The Journal.
The SVPRS responded to 52 requests for assistance accessing academic accommodations and 18 requests for documentation supporting academic appeals. Students don’t need to make a formal complaint to access SVPRS supports. Complaints are put in writing which initiate an investigation by the University.
Under the current policy, the University doesn’t process anonymous complaints.
The external review by the Canadian Centre for Legal Innovation in Sexual Assault Response of Queen’s SVPR policies and procedures concluded in February. The external review found Queen’s policy and procedural response to sexual violence to be rigorous and highly professional.
The external review made 21 recommendations to Queen’s. Recommendations include changing the language for students disclosing incidents of sexual violence from complainant to reporter.
Another recommended change was publishing more detailed information on sexual violence complainants and outcomes at Queen’s while maintaining anonymity and formalizing the process for sexual violence disclosures in residence.
Changes to policy have yet to undergo a consultation process with students. SVPRS is hosting consultations this fall and Lotan encouraged students to participate in student surveys and the fall semester consultations.
“If student voices aren’t there, then we weren’t getting the right feedback. Those are the places where I think students can and should participate as much as they can and really attend the events and share amongst students,” Lotan said.
Recommendations on the services side, such as communications to students from the student conduct office, have already been implemented. Now communications to student respondents have more accessible language with less legal jargon.
“[The correspondences] are still formal and they’re still important communications, and they have to be a certain way, but I think they have a better tone,” Lotan said.
Lotan acknowledged there’s always more work to be done in improving SVPRS. She hopes to expand SVPRS initiatives in coming years.
“We’ll be responsive to student requests for what they want and need around the regular events and programming, as well as the one-off sort of things that we might do,” Lotan said.
Lotan expressed pride in the work being done at Queen’s to address sexual violence on and off campus. She cited the University requiring all first-year students to complete the learning module It Takes All of US—which covers consent and bystander intervention—as demonstrating Queen’s commitment to sexual violence prevention.
“There’s a lot of work going on all the time by a lot of people. That’s really, for me, the most positive thing, the number of people who care and are engaging with this daily,” Lotan said.
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