Calls for sexual assault centre on campus unanswered for more than thirty years

University communications intimidating and isolating survivors

To protest a culture of sexual violence, blue stop signs bearing the words “A Sexual Assault Happened Here” once appeared on campus.
Photo: 
This article discusses sexual assault and may be triggering for some readers. The Journal uses “survivor” to refer to those who have experienced sexual assault. We acknowledge this term is not universal.
 
In 1989, a report called for Queen’s to implement a sexual assault centre on campus. The same recommendation was suggested in 2015. In 2020, it still hasn’t happened.
 
The push for Canadian universities to start implementing institutional responses to campus sexual violence reached a high point in 2014, when The Toronto Star published an article revealing only nine out of 102 Canadian universities and colleges had sexual violence policies. 
 
In 2016, the Ontario government passed Bill 132, requiring all of the province’s post-secondary institutions to develop sexual violence policies. That same year, Queen’s hired Barbara Lotan as its first-ever Sexual Violence Prevention and Response Coordinator, placing her in on an upper-floor in Macintosh-Corry Hall.
 
Before Lotan came to Queen’s, however, the sexual assault prevention and response working group committee submitted a report to the University in 2015 outlining 34 recommendations to combat sexual violence on campus.
 
The first recommendation on that list was for the University to establish a “central, visible, and welcoming ‘Sexual Assault Response and Prevention’ centre” on campus, which would function as “a single point of entry for integrated and holistic sexual assault response, support, advising, counselling, advocacy, and case management services; and a driving force for campus-wide sexual violence prevention education and first-response training.”
 
Katie*, whose name has been protected, was sexually assaulted in 2014 in her Waldron Tower dorm room. She spoke to The Journal about the 2015 report, which she remembers from her experience as an undergraduate student at Queen’s.
 
“There seems to be this trend at Queen’s where there’s some PR scandal and they come out with a report about what they’re going to do about it, and then it sits on a shelf and collects dust. I think that’s where this report is at.”
 
She pointed out that having a sexual assault centre on campus is the first recommendation in the 2015 report. 
 
The University has yet to respond to The Journal’s inquiries about plans to implement a sexual assault centre on campus and the language used when communicating with survivors.
 
“I think at least investing in some consultation for this is worthwhile. The people who wrote that report poured so much time and labour and energy into developing those recommendations. They don’t just come out of nowhere.”
 
She said the other recommendations in the 2015 report would be easier to fulfill if a centre opened on campus, as well as avoiding sexual violence policy controversies like the University experienced this year regarding student confidentiality. 
 
“They’re related because I think a lot of training and education would come out of something like a sexual assault centre. If there was this present building on campus people would not only be aware that there are training options, but for professors, faculty, and staff, there would be more people to give training on how to receive a disclosure,” Katie said.
 
She added that a sexual assault centre on campus should be stand-alone and autonomous, in its own building.
 
“I think [Lotan’s] role could be multiplied by five, but at least two,” Katie said. “I think there could be more people who did [Lotan’s] job but had different identities and experiences and perspectives. Barb is a very singular person. She can only serve so many people, and I think, particularly, the diversity of needs of Queen’s students is not 
well-served by one person in an office.”
 
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In 1986, a sexual assault subcommittee was formed at Queen’s under the Principal’s Advisory Committee on the Status of Women at Queen’s.
 
The subcommittee produced a report in 1989 outlining 11 recommendations for Queen’s to reduce the frequency of sexual violence incidents on campus and improve help available to survivors. 
 
The eighth recommendation on the list stated “financial support should be given to the Sexual Assault Crisis Centre and additional support should be given to enable them to open an office on campus if they feel it is necessary.”
 
In November of that year, about 50 women spent the night in the office of then Principal David Smith to protest sexism on campus. The month before, a number of signs appeared in the windows of then-male residence building Gordon Hall, displaying messages like “no means kick her in the teeth,” “no means have another beer,” and “no means tie me up.”
 
The women were protesting the lack of administrative interference in the signs, but also the lack of support available on campus for sexual violence survivors. They presented seven demands to Principal Smith to combat sexual violence at Queen’s, including issuing a public apology for the delayed response and requiring the men of Gordon House to raise $5,000 in survivor support.  
 
The seventh and final demand was for the University to contribute funding to the Sexual Assault Centre of Kingston (SACK).
 
“We demand that the administration of this university fund the Sexual Assault Crisis Centre of Kingston as there is no centre on this campus, and Queen’s women who are the victims of sexual violence use SACCK’s services,” the document stated.
 
Penelope Hutchison, who was one of the participating students in the sit-in, said the seventh demand came from an absence of University support for survivors of sexual violence at Queen’s.
 
“There was nothing,” she told The Journal. “We felt it was critical that if female students were going to be learning in the kind of sexist environment that existed at Queen’s in 1989, that the University needed to support 
the Centre.”
 
Hutchison said “it’s tragic” that Queen’s still doesn’t have a survivor centre on campus. 
 
“It’s not the direction other universities across the country are going,” she said. “There are models across the country.”
 
 
“Queen’s has a huge gap and is doing a disservice to women and all victims of sexual assault, [including] trans people and men,” Hutchison said. “I cannot believe Queen’s doesn’t have one yet. I cannot believe after all of that, they still don’t have anything.”
 
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The Journal asked the University to provide Lotan’s budget for every year since she started at Queen’s. In a response, Community Relations Manager Mark Erdman said Sexual Violence Prevention and Response (SVPR) is one of four services offered by the Human Rights and Equity Office, which has a 2019-20 budget of $1.56 million. 
 
“There are no individual budgets for any of the four services,” Erdman wrote in a Jan. 24 statement to The Journal, but added that SVPR services are also provided through Student Affairs, Student Wellness Services, Campus Security, and the University Secretariat and the Women’s Campus Safety Grant.
 
“The University continues to monitor the evolving needs of the campus community and to add new services and supports, the most recent of which is a SVPR Community Outreach and Student Support position which will be posted in winter 2020.”
 
Brea Hutchinson, executive director of the Sexual Assault Centre Kingston (SACK), told The Journal having an office on Queen’s campus has been a long time project of SACK Kingston. 
 
“We have wanted to increase our presence on campus, including offering counselling on campus, for a long time,” she said. “I think the University has a tremendous resource sitting 10 minutes away.”
 
Hutchinson said last summer, the University approached SACK and asked for a proposal of what an office or centre on campus would look like.
 
“We were really excited to talk about that and make proposals and share our methodologies,” she said. “The University decided not to proceed with that and instead proceed with an increased relationship with [Kingston General Hospital].”
 
Hutchinson said SACK has a first-response program with local high schools.
 
“We offer rapid first response for students who are in secondary and other educational opportunities, where they can get access to our counselling within in an average of about 5 to 10 days, which is much better than our normal waitlist just because of resources.”
 
According to Hutchinson, SACK proposed a similar model to Queen’s in which the University would provide some funding and the SACK would guarantee dedicated space and rapid access to long-term, trauma-informed counselling.
 
“How I would love to see it is we would have one counsellor on campus five days a week, and we would have a rotation of which counsellor is there,” Hutchinson said. “We see a lot of Queen’s students very frustrated with the mental health counselling they get at Queen’s.”
 
Currently, Hutchinson said the University provides the SACK with $1 per student.
 
“I’m really appreciative of that,” Hutchinson said, but added that SACK Kingston is running out of space.
 
“We’re happy to serve [Queen’s students] and that’s why we’re here, but we probably could do a better job and we’re looking toward Queen’s to start this relationship.” 
 
Hutchinson said that one reason she believes the SACK has struggled in its relationship is because it doesn’t engage in information-sharing with the University about individual students.
 
“If Queen’s expected us to honour a disclosure, we wouldn’t,” she said. “We will never tell Queen’s the information that’s required in the policy. In that regard, we’re controversial and not an obedient partner. We work for students, we work for survivors, not for the administration.”
 
While Hutchinson said she didn’t reference Queen’s sexual violence policy itself—a portion of which is currently under review for jeopardizing student confidentiality—she made it clear in her conversations with the University last summer that the SACK wouldn’t share survivor information with Queen’s.
 
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In interviews, a number of sexual violence survivors told The Journal that language the University uses in communicating with them can be intimidating.
 
Amy*, whose name has been protected, was sexually assaulted in 2018. After meeting with Barb Lotan for the first time in the 2019 winter semester, she received an encrypted notice of investigation. Amy didn’t sign the notice of investigation, but interpreted it as binding.
 
“All parties will be instructed that this process is confidential. Any information communicated by or to the investigator during the investigation is not to be disclosed to or discussed with others except with an advisor from whom you are seeking assistance related to the case, or a counsellor, physician, support person, or the like,” the notice read.
 
“That scared me so much,” Amy said. “I remember seeing that and not knowing who I could really talk to about it.”
 
She added that while she has no complaints regarding her interactions with Lotan, and that she felt she had the best case scenario, the day she went into Lotan’s office to write down her statement and subsequently receive the notice was the worst day of the experience.
 
“When I had to write my statement, that day was specifically horrid. I wrote it down and then I had to go about my day having relived the whole thing. I remember getting home at the end of that day crying and spending the rest of the day in bed because I couldn’t call any of my friends [at Queen’s].”
 
On Tuesday, The Journal reported that former Queen’s professor, Andrew Bretz, who passed away in 2018, was under investigation for sexual harassment in the months leading up to his death.
 
Abigail*, who reported an alleged incident of sexual harassment committed by Bretz to the University, received a notice of investigation that stated the following:
 
“Please note that this is a confidential matter. Accordingly, you should not inform anyone at the University, or otherwise connected to the University, of this investigation, nor should you comment publicly on the fact that this investigation is proceeding and/or fail to maintain the confidentiality of all information you discuss during your meeting with the [investigator].”
 
Abigail, whose name has been protected, told The Journal said she eventually realized the letter wasn’t legally binding, but that in the beginning, it felt that way. 
 
“I’m not allowed to tell anyone who’s related to the school at all. That includes my counsellor, the chaplain. My whole family’s out, I’m not allowed to talk to them. I’m not allowed to go to the media.”
 
In an interview with The Journal, lawyer and Queen’s alum Pamela Cross expressed concerns about the language used by the University in the notice of investigation.
 
“I’m trying to read it through the lens of somebody younger than me, who’s not a lawyer, who’s had a sexually harassing or assaultive experience at the hands of a professor. Somebody who’s probably feeling quite fragile and disempowered and maybe intimidated by the University structure. I would find this letter to be very intimidating,” she said.
 
Cross added that the confidentiality paragraph, in particular, is “tantamount to a non-disclosure agreement.”
 
“I fully acknowledge that’s not what it is, because it says “should” and not “must,” but I think it has to be read in the context of the likely state of mind of the person to whom it’s being sent,” she said. 
 
Cross said ultimately, the agency of the survivor is what should be prioritized.
 
“I think anything that’s done that takes away autonomy or a sense of control from the survivor of any kind of sexual harassment or violence, and then goes on to tell that person they’re not allowed to talk about it, is extremely problematic.”
 

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