What Toronto Colleges and Universities are Doing to Address Sexual Violence
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What Toronto Colleges and Universities are Doing to Address Sexual Violence

After bill 132 became law, Ontario's universities and colleges had to implement standalone sexual violence policies. Here's what Toronto campuses now provide.

Sexual violence is never okay—and this school year, post-secondary institutions across Toronto are working to make sure that message is heard loud and clear.

These additional efforts are a result of the Ontario government’s Bill 132, first proposed last fall, following the launch of its three-year “It’s Never OK” action plan to put an end to sexual violence. When Bill 132 eventually became law this past spring, it required all universities and colleges to create stand-alone policies to deal with sexual violence and update them every three years with student input.

Prior to the introduction of this legislation, a 2014 Toronto Star investigation revealed that nine out of 78 universities across Canada had a separate policy to deal with sexual assault on campus. Now universities and colleges have until January 2017 to make the necessary changes required by Bill 132.

Here is where Toronto-based schools stand today.

Ryerson University

Ryerson’s Office of Sexual Violence Support and Education launched last summer as part of one of 19 recommendations listed in the review of the school’s policies, procedures and protocols related to sexual violence. Shortly thereafter, the university brought on Farrah Khan as the office’s co-ordinator.

In her role, Khan is there primarily to support survivors, as well as promote awareness and education within the school’s community. She listens to individuals, helps them navigate resources they need within the university and helps them understand their reporting options. Khan is also working on several awareness campaigns at the start of this new school year.

“I launched a community education campaign called “Be BRAVE,” which is a model for how students, faculty, and staff can respond to someone if they disclose sexual violence,” says Khan. “Part of the model is providing examples of things to say to survivors through posters, postcards, and the ‘We Believe You’ colouring book.” Ryerson’s downtown location leads to high pedestrian traffic on its campus, which means more than students and faculty interact with it. This is why Khan and the OSCSE are working with the local BIA and city councillors to make sure students feel safe. “Ultimately I want to firmly establish a consent culture at Ryerson,” says Khan. “This means that everyone—students, faculty, and staff—understand what consent means, how to support someone if they disclose sexual violence and how to intervene in situations that could lead to sexual violence.”

And so far the reaction has been positive as a growing number of community members become aware of the office and its goals. Most recently, during this fall’s orientation week, over 2,000 people participated in the #ConsentComesFirst training. Other initiatives this fall include co-hosting Take Back the Night at Ryerson with the Toronto Rape Crisis Centre on Friday, September 16, as well working on a podcast about sexual violence and healing.

University of Toronto

The University of Toronto released its draft policy on sexual violence last week, on September 7. This is a stand-alone policy, as required by Bill 132, and came as a result of an 18-month consultation and research period. While members of the community can continue to comment on the draft, the final policy needs to be approved by the end of the fall semester ahead of the government’s January 2017 deadline. Following the recommendations of an earlier expert panel, all sexual violence incident reports will be handled in a consistent manner through a centralized system.

In addition to this policy, the school has created two other panels: one on education and prevention, and another to follow up on the policy in the years to come. In the meantime, the key element of the school’s new policy is the development of a new Sexual Violence Prevention and Support Centre that will be present on all three campuses. The centre will be the first point of contact to disclose or report an incident. The university is also in the midst of hiring an Executive Director, Personal Safety, High Risk & Sexual Violence Prevention and Support. This person will oversee the school’s prevention and response initiatives when it comes to sexual violence on campus. Until then, the university recommends students go to safety.utoronto.ca to find all the information on where to get medical assistance and how to report or disclose an incident. At the start of the semester, the university delivered mandatory skills training to orientation leaders and residence life staff. They learn how to respond to sexual assault disclosure, how to engage students in the prevention of sexual violence, and are given a list of campus resources. The Understand Consent campaign is another ongoing yearlong initiative on campus.

York University

In accordance with the provincial government’s Bill 132, York University is currently in the process of developing a new sexual violence policy. The school has established a Sexual Violence Policy Working Group—which includes a number of student organizations and university departments—to develop a draft policy by October or November of this year. At that point, the draft policy will undergo a series of consultations. “The voices of survivors are critical to the policy development process,” says Samina Sami, executive director of community safety for York University. “We will also be creating a means by which survivors and other members of the York community can submit written comments on the drafts policy.”

The university currently offers resources and services through its Sexual Assault Survivor’s Support Line & Leadership. There, students can find a 24-hour support line during the fall and winter semesters, as well as walk-in support year round at the university’s student centre office. The SASSL also provides educational outreach programs and information sessions at York. As York continues to develop its new sexual violence policy, the school will be considering how best to compile data and publicly report on sexual violence at the university.

Humber College

Humber’s sexual assault and sexual violence policy dates back to March 2015. Jen McMillen, the dean of students at Humber College, says the school has since been focusing on a multi-pronged approach that include response protocols, student counselling, and efforts to shift the conversation around the culture of sexual assaults on college or university campuses. Last year the school launched a program called Consent is Sexy, which is run by a group of students supported by full-time staff. Now in its second year, the Consent is Sexy crew is there to promote the definition of consent in a respectful, optimistic and appropriate manner with students, as well as provide them with the appropriate resources. Another initiative is Humber’s Bystander Intervention programs, which aim to empower individuals to intervene in an incident in order to stop it. The Can I Kiss You presentation is a mandatory session led by Mike Domitrz for all first-year resident students, and this year all of the school’s varsity athletes were asked to participate. “It’s all about how you ask for consent and how do you engage in that activity,” says McMillen. This year, the school is also asking its students to sign a pledge to help end sexual violence on campus and so far 1,038 students have signed.

For McMillen, these are all visible signs that the community is engaging to end a culture of sexual violence. “We want to create a culture that combats sexual violence and conveys to people that they are in a supportive environment on campus,” says McMillen.

George Brown College

George Brown College’s current sexual assault and sexual violence policy came into effect in March of 2015 and will be subject to review in 2018. That’s where students and faculty can find the school’s official policy statement, important definitions about consent, and resources on how to report and respond to sexual violence. But this September, the school also launched a peer-to-peer program where six student facilitators are providing training in various programs at the school. This initiative comes in addition to the college naming a new sexual violence response advisor, Heidi Mehta, who is also the Positive Space co-ordinator. The school also undertook a consent campaign during its fall orientation, where students were given card holders with “yes” or “no” written on them to place on the back of their phones. Olga Dosif, the school’s human rights advisor to the president, says condoms and stickers were also distributed to students during orientation, with this same message on the importance of consent. George Brown College wants to ensure students and faculty know what to do if someone discloses to you that they’ve been sexually assaulted. “Bill 132 required us to be more proactive,” says Dosif. “So we created new roles and started designing targeted initiatives.” She hopes the program will continue to expand and gain awareness on the various campuses.

Seneca College

Like the other colleges, Seneca’s sexual assault policy was also in development prior to the Ontario government’s Bill 132 and it passed through the school’s board of governors at the end of March 2015. Andrea Campea, student conduct manager at Seneca College, says a big reason behind this push was because this was the right thing to do in terms of supporting students and giving them the resources they need. As part of the policy, students can better understand their rights and responsibilities, learn where to file a report if they choose to do so and other myths versus facts students may have when it comes to sexual violence.

This fall, additional prevention initiatives were launched including peer-to-peer student consent training, which focused on what consent means and steps to keep the community safer. Seneca also has an active bystander training which teaches individuals how to intervene and address a situation that is not okay. And just this week, the school launched a social media campaign using the hashtag #ShatterTheSilence. The goal here is to get people talking about sexual violence and prevention within the school community and sign a pledge promising to not let this issue go unheard. “Consent is affirmative, it’s ongoing, it’s sober,” says Campea. “And we’re ensuring students have a clear understand how they can give consent.” In addition to these initiatives, the school is currently in the process of hiring a counsellor who will deal specifically with sexual assault response and prevention on campus. “My hope is that students are able to see that Seneca is a place that supports its students and survivors.” These campaigns are all part of a cross-college initiative.