by Anna Przednowek, PhD student in Social Work, VAW Hub RA
On Tuesday January 19th, 2016, the Carleton University community with the support of every Carleton faculty and the Office of the Vice-President (Students and Enrollment) plus numerous campus institutes, departments, associations, and centres was invited to a screening of the documentary “The Hunting Ground “. The campus was a fitting setting for the screening as the film provides an “exposé of rape crimes on U.S. college campuses, their institutional cover-ups, and the devastating toll they take on students and their families”. Over 100 people, primarily students, attended the event. A panel discussion of current issues related to sexual violence on Canadian University campuses, and more specifically Carleton University, followed the screening of the film. GSA’s Leigh-Ann Worrell and Ottawa Rape Crisis Center‘s Tara Henderson contributed as panel members, as did Dawn Moore and Diana Majury from the Department of Law and Legal Studies.
The event raised interesting questions about community and about the nature of partnerships. As members of the Community First: Impacts of Community Engagement (CFICE) project, we often question what constitutes a community. When we refer to community in an academic setting, do we actually mean the community outside the University premises? What about the campus community? Similar issues of access and power apply to internal partnerships within the campus community and haunt academic/community partnerships. Do the current legislative initiatives on campus violence offer an opportunity to build a strong university- campus community partnership through the development and implementation of a campus sexual violence policy? And what is the potential to extend that partnership to work with off-campus activists and survivors to strengthen the movement against sexual violence?
In recent years, we have witnessed highly publicized incidents of sexual violence at Canadian universities (for example the University of Ottawa and Dalhousie University). These incidents and the responses to them highlighted the entrenched problem of on campus sexual violence and campus rape culture. Consequently, universities across Canada and Quebec are looking to develop or revise campus sexual violence policies. Through Bill 132 – Sexual Violence and Harassment Action Plan Act (Supporting Survivors and Challenging Sexual Violence and Harassment,) – the Ontario Government is seeking to make stand alone campus policies on sexual violence mandatory for Ontario universities and colleges. In her panel remarks following the film screening, Diana Majury, the Academic Co-Lead for the Violence Against Women Hub of CFICE, spoke to the potential and the concerns with this proposed legislation. She raised questions about the definition of sexual violence, about how to entrench transparency and accountability, and how to ensure that the expertise of campus activists and survivors is used in developing and implementing the policy at Carleton University.
Majury made a number of recommendations for revisions to the legislation and the content of the Carleton policy. She pointed out that the legislation currently only refers to sexual violence involving students and recommended that coverage be extended to include faculty, staff and visitors who are also at risk. She emphasized the need for public input into the Bill and the regulations, and the need for an intersectional systemic approach to the issue and to the development of the policy. Majury raised a number of matters that need to be addressed, noting the importance of avoiding tokenism in fulfilling the requirement of student input into the policy. This process opens up an opportunity for a student/administration partnership that could be a model for addressing campus issues.
In thinking about policy content, Majury raised questions about who would be appointed in the roles of investigators and decision makers and what training would be provided to them. She noted that, if imposed, a mandatory reporting requirement might be counterproductive and actually inhibit survivors from seeking support and advice. She raised the possibility of anonymous reporting, recognizing that many victims are understandably reluctant to report because of stigma, fear of reprisal and because complaint processes often re-traumatize the victim. These concerns were dramatically demonstrated in the cases covered in The Hunting Ground. Decisions will have to be made about the investigation and adjudication processes – whether formal or informal. Majury warned against processes dominated by lawyers. The questions of what sanctions should be available and on what basis they would be imposed are central. The policy will need to be clear on the purpose of the sanction and how to ensure the safety and support of victims. And importantly, the policy will need to address the underlying rape culture. Majury advised that Carleton seriously consider adopting a system of oversight over the implementation of the policy by external community experts on sexual violence as is in place with respect to sexual assault complaints to police in some cities in the USA. This would be an opportunity for a productive and unique campus/community partnership that would put community expertise first.
Important issues were also raised by Carleton community members who attended the event. The film depicted the many incentives for universities to deny, cover up and down play the level of sexual violence on their campus. Concerns were raised about these issues on our campus. Students raised the need for faculty to get more involved in these issues — to stand up against sexual violence and to support sexual violence survivors. The suggestion was made that the development of, and compliance with, campus sexual violence policies should be tied to government funding.
The film and the discussion were an effective call to action. Within three days, Carleton graduate students had organized and submitted recommendations on Bill 132 to the Standing Committee on Social Policy where the Bill is under review.
Gilbert, D., & Sheehy, E. (2015). “Responding to Sexual Assault on Campus: What Can Canadian Universities Learn from US Law and Policy?” (Forthcoming, in Elizabeth Quinlan, Andrea Quinlan, Curtis Fogel & Gail Taylor, Eds Sexual Assault on Canadian University and College Campuses (Wilfrid Laurier University Press) Retrieved from http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=2641844
Ontario Government (March, 2015). It’s Never Okay: An Action Plan to Stop Sexual Violence and Harassment.