This past Thursday, the University of Toronto, the University of Toronto Graduate Students Union, the UTMSU, the UTSU, the SCSU, and APUS held a consultation with students regarding the University’s policy on sexual violence and sexual harassment.

The goal for this sexual harassment policy (SVP) consultation was to collect feedback from students on the report in hopes of locating its shortcomings and recommending adequate changes to the current policy.

The host of the meeting highlighted the priority of reforming the policy to make it a “survivor-centred policy, and not a bureaucratic-centred policy.”

The attendants of the consultation session emphasized that the policy needs to be understandable and written in simple language.

Attendants brought up suggestions, to include in the policy the acknowledgement that the process can stop at any time should a survivor of sexual violence become uncomfortable.

Attendants also suggested ensuring that when a survivor of sexual violence come forward with a complaint, they not be faced with the bureaucratic red tape of listing times and dates but instead is ensured emotional support first and foremost.

Attendants brought up the discomfort a survivor of sexual harassment or violence might feel due to the policy’s terminology in referring to the survivor as a “complainant.”

Additionally, attendants expressed disappointment and confusion at the fact that, according to the hosts, the university will not publish policies like this in other languages because U of T is considered an English-speaking university. This means that the university assumes that students have the requisite linguistic knowledge to read documents such as this policy.

One attendant highlighted that this kind of mentality can alienate international students and put them in harm’s way.

One host highlighted that “this policy needs to acknowledge, understand, and attend to the fact that rape culture is alive and real on the University of Toronto campuses.”

In terms of intersectionality, one of the hosts wished to emphasize that power dynamics “deeply affect who experiences sexual violence and what that looks like,” as well as the process survivors go through to advocate for themselves through the process of achieving justice.

The intersections of survivors’ identities can play a major role in whether or not they come forward.

To ameliorate this, the attendants advised recognizing intersectionality in the SVP companion guide. Another major amendment proposed was with regard to when the university reviews the SVP. According to the policy, the university reviews the policy every three years, attendants found this extremely inadequate and far too long for reviewing such a critical policy.

Attendants also suggested having a community instead of a centre for survivors to go with accusations in order to encourage disclosure on sexual harassment and violence. In addition, emphasizing confidentiality would be necessary in this objective.

The attendants also discussed the importance of the #MeToo movement in demonstrating the importance power dynamics play in the conversation on sexual violence.

This article has been corrected.
  1. February 13, 2019 at 5 a.m.: The article included the University of Toronto Graduate Students Union, the UTMSU, the UTSU, the SCSU, and APUS hosted the consultation alongside the University of Toronto. The headline was also update to reflect this change.
    Notice to be printed on February 25, 2019 (Volume 45, Issue 19).

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