Sexual assault policies alone aren’t solutions to sexual violence on campus


Having a sexual assault policy is one thing, having an effective policy is quite another.

As revealed in a proposal from the Liberal government in this year’s budget, up to $5.5 million over the course of five years could be allocated to address gender-based violence on university and college campuses. However, the institutions that fail to meet sexual assault policy standards won’t reap those benefits and could stand to lose more federal funds.

While fundamentally this is a good idea, it needs to be very carefully and thoughtfully executed to make any real difference to the sexual assault rates on campus.

In Canada, many universities lack effective and substantial policy on sexual assault. Even at Queen’s, our policy is only a few years old, and sexual violence still proving to be a major issue on campus. But the process of creating an adequate policy is extensive and involves copious amounts of hard-won research that can’t be hastily thrown together.

While the Liberal government hasn’t detailed exactly how policies would be evaluated, the bare minimum they would have to ask for isn’t so easily defined.

It’s not immediately clear what an ‘adequate’ policy would entail. Since this is only a proposal, it’s yet to be explained what the standard for sexual assault policies would be. Setting any standard at all will be a difficult task in itself, as no one school seems to have worked out exactly what the best practices are.

It’s a sad thing that a financial threat could be the thing that finally forces universities to take administrative action against sexual assault on their campuses. To move forward with an idea like this, the government needs to demonstrate that they’re going to be committed to seeing these policies through the hard road ahead.

An evaluation like this shouldn’t be a ‘once and done’ pass. Even if these policies gain approval, they need to be followed up with more rigorous, ongoing evaluation. As we learn more about what the best practices are, sexual assault policies must evolve with time and research, and that needs to be a major concern for any evaluation process put into place.

Five years is a short timeline to accomplish the sophistication of what they’re proposing. It can be done, but not without an enormous amount of continuous effort from the government.

Keeping tabs on how effective these policies could be will be a complex problem. Rather than reviewing the policies alone, gauging student satisfaction with them needs to feature prominently in whatever evaluation process they come up with.

Performing a deeper analysis of how policies function at universities is a feat in itself, but it’s one well worth the effort if it can contribute to ending sexual violence on campuses.

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