Photo: Sarah Krichel

Ryerson’s sexual violence policy under review

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By Sarah Krichel

Sexual assault policies are being implemented at universities across the country and—while Ryerson has been praised for being one of the first schools to formally address rape reports—some of Ontario’s foremost voices on the topic say Ryerson still needs to improve.

According to Farrah Khan, coordinator of Ryerson’s Office of Sexual Violence Support and Education (OSVSE), changes are being made to the school’s sexual violence policy in order to meet regulations stated in Bill 132, which was introduced in provincial parliament in March. It states that every college and university must have a specific policy for sexual violence, and review and amend it once every three years. It also ensures that students’ input is considered during review.

But a bill won’t necessarily help survivors who are in need of a resolution, according to Mandi Gray, a sexual violence survivor.

Gray, a York University student, spoke about rape on Canadian university campuses at Ryerson on Aug. 5. She spoke about her experiences as a survivor, and how the current initiatives are failing students.

“Bill 132 does nothing for people in my situation,” Gray later said via email. “It fails to examine the ways universities are adjudicating and investigating sexual assault … there remains a substantial lack of external oversight.”

Khan said that the bill is the first step, followed by broader conversation about enforcing the policy.

Conversations aside, Gray wants to see more substantive procedural change. “There remains a lack of procedure and timelines for resolution,” Gray said.

Ryerson’s sexual violence policy was implemented in June 2015 and focuses on awareness, prevention, education and response. Its main purpose is to provide survivors with the information they need to decide what to do next. The policy does not require students to sign any confidentiality form at any time.

Prior to the policy being implemented, The Eyeopener reported that between 2009 and 2013, Ryerson had more incidents of sexual assault than any other school in the country.

Further suggestions for change involve the process for investigation and decision-making after a report has been made.

In 2015, 14 sexual assaults were reported to Ryerson security, according to Khan. The year before, 21 cases were reported. These figures don’t include cases of sexual assault or violence where the victim chose not to make a formal report. Statistics for 2016 were not available.

A National College Health Assessment survey of more than 43,000 post-secondary students, published in Spring 2016, found that one in 10 students said they’d experienced unwanted sexual advances and assault. Other Canadian sexual assault data says that more often than not, these incidents go unreported to the police — of every 100 cases, only six are reported and even fewer turn into court cases.

Many share the belief that tackling these statistics and addressing sexual violence is more complex than implementing a policy or outreach program. Over the past few months, Ryerson has been involved in the #IBelieveSurvivors social media campaign and created the “We Believe You” colouring book.

But Ellie Ade Kur, another speaker at Ryerson, said that these initiatives don’t hold an institution accountable.

“Don’t give me a colouring book if I have to walk into class and see the person who attacked me,” she said, adding that universities need to be able to provide substantial resources to students. She also said that hashtags, colouring books and stickers don’t replace legitimate action against sexual violence.

According to Ade Kur, there’s also an issue with white feminism on campuses. She said it’s important to address the needs of individuals who are treated differently by university administrators, police, courts and sexual violence perpetrators. This includes those who are racialized, those who live with disability or those who are non-gender-conforming.

“More often than not, I’m scared shitless to walk into a room full of white women talking about sexual violence because it’s not the same thing,” Ade Kur said. “If we can’t go to the next level and start talking about race in a meaningful way and talk about intersecting forms of marginalization, then this isn’t a space for me.”

According to Statistics Canada, 83 per cent of disabled women will be sexually assaulted during their lifetime. The OSVSE can communicate with individuals who are deaf by having an email service and in-person meetings can be held for visually-impaired students.

Additional statistics show that 57 per cent of aboriginal women have been sexually assaulted, and immi- grant women are more vulnerable than white women to gender-based violence.

Khan said that it boils down to “how we treat each other.”

“If I come from a racialized community that has had a tenuous historical relationship with the police or with the state, such as Indigenous women, Black women, Muslim communities, I may not feel as comfortable to speak to the police and disclose what has happened to me, seeing that my community has been surveyed or policed,” said Khan.

Another topic that has sparked a nation-wide discussion is the inclusion of certain terminology in drafts for new policies at universities. Whether or not to include the term “rape culture,” as opposed to, say, “harm reduction,” has brought the usefulness of wording in policies into question.

Ryerson has had the term “rape culture” in its policy since its inception, unlike Carleton, which made a clear effort to exclude it, according to Khan. She said that wording is important because it’s affiliated with accountability.

Rape culture is perpetuated when chants of misogynistic messages are encouraged by typically straight white males, and when gender roles are construed. Actions such as these contribute to an unsafe environment on campus in which people of marginalized groups are highly targeted.

“As a woman of colour, it’s important to see that a policy is talking in an anti-racist perspective or is recognizing that systemic oppression impacts the way in which survivors feel and the way survivors access services,” Khan said.

Gray said that York has a survivor-centric policy and includes such terminology. But she said that if procedures don’t follow through when needed, “these words are just that — words.”

“We must ask ourselves: what purpose does it serve to include the term ‘rape culture’ in a policy? I would rather fight for procedures than get caught up in the language of an institutional policy,” said Gray.

Khan said that both language and procedure carry weight. “How it’s actually carried out by the people is what matters.”

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