New sexual assault policy only the beginning

Provost says policy is “an important step” but further modifications may be made

The new policy was announced on March 4, 2016.

Talk of amending parts of the new sexual violence policy has begun just a week after the Queen’s Board of Trustees approved the document.

Provost Alan Harrison says the passage of the Ontario Sexual Violence and Harassment Plan Act may lead to amendments to the policy, while Rector Mike Young has highlighted several concerns about the current policy despite his overall excitement at seeing the policy approved.

Before an interim protocol was released in December 2014, a harassment and discrimination complaint policy had been used for cases involving sexual assault.

The recently-passed policy has been in the works for 15 months. Following a Toronto Star investigation into sexual assault policies at universities in November 2014, Queen’s expedited the work of the Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Working Group (SAPWRG) created in June 2013.

Since then, the University has been in the process of creating a sexual assault policy. Queen’s released a report of recommendations on June 1, 2016 and a draft of the policy for feedback on Dec. 3, 2016.

The final policy received approval from the Board of Trustees four days before the province announced the passage of the Sexual Violence and Harassment Plan Act (Bill 132). The impending legislation had been previously cited by University administration as a reason for delays in the policy-making process.

The legislation mandates that all post-secondary institutions create a standalone sexual violence policy before Jan. 1, 2017, and is reviewed by a group that includes students every three years.

Provost Alan Harrison told The Journal in an email that some modifications may still need to be made to the Queen’s policy based on the legislation and associated regulations. However, he called the approved policy “an important step”.

“The policy outlines the options that are available to anyone who has witnessed or experienced sexual violence and the university’s responsibilities relating to awareness, education, training and reporting,” he wrote.

He added that it includes an expanded list of definitions, a statement of Queen’s commitment to survivors, and a statement on the maintenance of annual statistics.

Among the changes between the December draft and the final policy included the removal of a clause regarding “mistaken consent”.  The statement originally read that “mistaken belief in consent is only a defense if the alleged assailant took reasonable steps to ascertain whether the survivor has communicated consent to the particular sexual activity in question.”

However, the draft did not specify what “reasonable steps” entailed. The section was removed from the definition of consent in the final policy.

The definition of consent in the policy is now defined as an “active, direct, voluntary, unimpaired and conscious choice and agreement”. Verbal consent is not required within the definition of consent in the current policy.

Rector Mike Young said it’s important to add verbal consent to the policy, as it aligns to other university initiatives, including his work as a sexual assault bystander intervention skills trainer. Young sits on the Board of Trustees along with Undergraduate Student Trustee Jennifer Li and Graduate Student Trustee James A. MacLeod.

Most importantly, Young says he’s grateful for the progress that’s been made and anticipates the University’s next steps. One of these steps will include hiring the promised Sexual Violence Prevention and Response Coordinator.

While he expressed excitement with the survivor-centric and support-oriented direction Queen’s was taking, he worries that a single new coordinator won’t be enough.

“Two per cent of all people who have experienced sexual assault had reported it to the university [according to a 2015 survey]. If we do this properly, we will see that number rise significantly.”

While one person may have been equipped to handle the two per cent reporting assaults, he said that when that number begins to rise, he worries that “one human being would not be capable of dedicating the right amount of attention to each part of the portfolio.”

Moving forward, he says he hopes that Queen’s would commit to more than they’re mandated to and clarifies the ambiguities remaining around alcohol and substance use in consent.

He said that he’s been approached several times by students asking, “if I’m drinking, and she’s drinking, and there’s sexual activity, who’s at fault?”

“I think there [are] some societal assumptions about who is culpable in that sort of situation, and those are the hard conversations to have with students,” he said.

Young said his job often involves holding the administration accountable and “hold[ing] their feet to the fire”, and that he’s very happy with the hard work that has gone into the process so far.

“I’m interested to see how the University takes [this] on: what kinds of directions they take, how they seek to engage our peers. Because it’s not an easy thing, but it’s something that we have to do.”

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