Students concerned over new sexual violence policy

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In accordance with the Ontario government&rsquo;s 2015 initiative <em>It&rsquo;s Never Okay</em> and Bill 132&rsquo;s <em>Sexual Violence and Harassment Action Plan Act</em>, all post-secondary institutions receiving provincial funding have been mandated to update their existing policies addressing sexual violence on campus. After revision, various Feds student councillors have expressed their concerns for UW&rsquo;s first draft of Policy 42, titled Prevention and Response to Sexual Violence.</p>

For their part, Feds sent out a preliminary draft of Policy 42 to students and the UW community seeking their input. In an email sent out June 6, Feds President Chris Lolas presented the policy along with two other documents — a protocol outlining how the policy will be enacted, and a flowchart to make it easier for survivors to understand their options for disclosure and reporting.

“The biggest change is that now we will have a policy that deals specifically with sexual violence. In the past, incidents of sexual violence have been handled through either Policy 33 — Ethical Behaviour, or Policy 71 — Student Discipline,” said Lolas in an email to Imprint. “It certainly will be an improvement that survivors will know exactly what policy to look to, and this policy will be tailored to these specific incidents.”

During the June 5 Feds Student Council meeting, some councillors expressed concern over the draft lacking emphasis on prevention. Lolas has brought the issue up with the university and is “confident” that great preventative measure will be seen in the next draft.  

“I’ll be honest with you, I don’t think this policy reduces rape culture because in order to reduce rape culture you need preventative measures [like] mandatory consent training,” Antonio Brieva, a Feds arts councillor, said in an interview to Imprint

When faced with a report of sexual violence, the policy states that the university will be granted the right to disclose confidential information to the Waterloo Regional Police Services (WRPS) if the threat is severe enough, as determined by the university. 

According to the drafted Sexual Violence Response Protocol (SVRP), there are three circumstances when the UW campus police will be obligated to notify WRPS: if “there is a public safety concern,” “if there is reason to believe that there is an investigation underway or charge by WRPS/local police,” or “where there is evidence that the complaint is vexatious.” 

“I have some worries about it. There’s been people in other campus groups and other students have been worried about that type of language in terms of how that might contribute to a sort of victim blaming in the policy, or just casting a doubt on anybody that wants to bring up an allegation of sexual violence,” Brieva said. “Yes, the law is the law and the contracts between local police and campus police [might] have some precedent or obligation on both parties, but I think clauses like this really contribute and reproduce essentially what we know as rape culture.” 

Brieva also said there were definitional differences between sexual harassment and sexual violence, explaining that cases of sexual harassment would be handled under Policy 33 rather than Policy 42. 

“The university may be sending the message, although I don’t think it’s intended … ‘Hey, sexual harassment is less serious than any other form of sexual violence’ — when it is a form of sexual violence,” Brieva said.

Despite the university’s decision to exclude sexual harassment within Policy 42, during the draft’s consultation period, Lolas said students and other groups on campus have stated that they would like to see sexual harassment included in the final draft.

If this new policy is passed, as stated in the protocol, the university will employ a trained sexual violence response co-ordinator to act as a central resource by “providing guidance on where to find support, options that are available and information on next steps, including safety planning, and navigating university procedures.” The co-ordinator would also be responsible for informing survivors “about the level of confidentiality that can be expected before disclosure takes place.”

As a central figure, Brieva explained that this responsibility may also bring into question the confidentially expected of certain roles like campus dons or professors. 

“I think that’s something that’s hard to foresee and put in protocols for and I think that would just come by as the policy is rolled out,” Brieva said. 

The management and hiring process for this position has yet to be decided.

As stated in the protocol, the Equity Office will “maintain necessary statistics” of sexual violence incidents on campus. 

 “What’s the definition of ‘necessary statistics’?” Brieva asked. “How do we ensure that the university, not only the University of Waterloo, but also other universities across the province, are reporting statistics that make institutions look good, because no university would want to be known as having a persistent rape culture alive on their campus.”

Currently, UW and other Ontario universities are in the process of deliberating the standards for collecting and sharing statistics. 

According to Lolas, the categories marked by the province include: “the number of times support, services and accommodations relating to sexual violence are requested and obtained, the number of incidents and complaints of sexual violence reported by students, and a few other related statistics.” Bill 132’s definition of sexual violence does account for sexual harassment, “so it should be included” within the statistics.  

Lolas expressed doubt that the university would water down their statistics. 

“Given that this is provincial law to provide these statistics, I fully believe the university will not water down [their stats]. The risk of being caught far outweighs any perceived benefit of covering up these incidents,” Lolas said. 

Based on the feedback collected so far by Feds, the flowchart has caused the greatest concerns.

“Students want a much clearer understanding of what the pathways for disclosing and reporting are. It’s written into the policy, but we need to make it easier for survivors to know what their options are,” Lolas said. 

The Undergraduate Student Relations Committee reviewed the policy June 28, following the final day to submit feedback. According to Lolas, the committee requested to see multiple changes to the draft, pressing for greater preventive measures. The policy will need to be approved by numerous committees before finally being approved by the Board of Governors in October. By January 2017, all Ontario colleges and universities are expected to have their own policy governing sexual violence. 

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