The University of Toronto released a draft last Wednesday for a stand-alone policy to prevent sexual violence on all U of T campuses, following a 40-point recommendation report made by an expert panel earlier last August.
Bill 132 of the provincial law requires universities to have a policy effective by January 2017 that addresses any sexual violence that students experience. The bill also states that there should be a process of how to respond to violent situations.
Three expert panels were established to advise U of T president Meric Gertler, and vice-president and provost Cheryl Regehr: one panel on sexual violence policies, chaired by Law Professor and Provost of Trinity College Mayo Moran; one on education and prevention of sexual violence, chaired by Professor Gretchen Kerr; and a sexual violence climate survey advisory board, chaired by Professor Sandy Welsh.
Among the points made in the draft based on the expert panel’s recommendations was outlining a statement of commitment on sexual violence.
“All members of the University of Toronto (“the University”) community should have the ability to study, work and live in a campus environment free from Sexual Violence, including Sexual Assault and Sexual Harassment,” reads a point in the statement of commitment section in the draft.
Other points in the draft policy recognize and address the needs of historically-marginalized group members. The draft also addresses the confidentiality of students affected by sexual violence, stating that confidential counselling and support should be made available as soon as possible to any U of T member who is affected by a sexual violence situation.
“The University will limit sharing of information to those within the University who need to know the information for the purposes of implementing this Policy, including providing accommodation and interim measures, and the investigation and decision-making processes; and taking corrective action resulting from those processes,” states part of the confidentiality section.
The draft, nonetheless, states that in case there is a risk to the health and safety of one of the victims, like harming oneself or others, confidentiality cannot be maintained, as the university is required by law to disclose the information in such cases.
A tri-campus Sexual Violence Prevention and Support Centre has also been established. According to the draft, the centre will “assist in triage, reporting and providing support for individual Members of the University Community who have experienced Sexual Violence.”
The centre was one of the recommendations in a report passed by the Presidential and Provostial Advisory Committee to the university last February, before establishing the expert panel. The committee included U of T undergraduate and graduate students, as well as staff and faculty.
In an open letter to the university, the Association of Part-time Undergraduate Students addressed their concerns regarding the recommendations made by the Presidential and Provostial Advisory Committee last February. The letter was signed by UTMSU, Scarborough Campus Student Union, University of Toronto Graduate Student Union, the LGBTOUT as well as several other clubs.
Concerns mentioned in the letter included the committee’s “failure to meaningfully engage with marginalized communities.” APUS also mentioned in the letter that the analysis of the report was “limited”, and that it lacked a “broad-based approach to the elimination of sexual and gender-based violence at the University.”
Ellie Adekur, a Ph.D. student in sociology and the founder of U of T’s Silence is Violence, points out that the generalized training process set in place for sexual assault counselors is concerning.
“It’s not that the recommendations aren’t good, because they are. I just think that they’re very vague,” said Adekur.
“Even if there is a policy that outlines what we’re going to do about sexual assault, […] what happens when the people in power abuse their power? What happens if they’re wrong or intimidate people? There’s really no sense of recourse.”
UTMSU’s VP equity Maleeha Baig also expressed concern over the representation of marginalized student groups.
“We have advocated that the new policy must encompass the realities of our most marginalized students and seek to create meaningful support for survivors; we do not just want to see the administration simply mark off a policy checkbox,” said Baig.
Baig also stated that the union feels that there could have been more student conversations with the university. UTMSU is instead planning on holding their own student-led consultations.