Thursday, February 22, 2018

New bill aims to combat sexual assaults on postsecondary campuses

March 30, 2016 by Kali Moreno, contributing writer

Green Party MLA for Oak Bay-Gordon Head Andrew Weaver recently tabled a bill at the legislature in response to the rising number of sexual assaults on British Columbia postsecondary campuses.

Weaver hopes that the Post-Secondary Sexual Violence Policies Act will address the non-existent protocol around dealing with sexual assaults at postsecondary institutions and get the conversation going about what he calls a “lack of understanding within broader society” surrounding sexual assaults.

“There needs to be some very, very straightforward language as to what consent is, what the policies for sexualized violence are, what sexualized violence actually is, as well as a zero-tolerance policy,” says Weaver. “That changes the culture within an institution. That’s the purpose of the legislation.”

Camosun College has officially had no sexual assaults on campus, but some say more policy is still needed (file photo).

Camosun College has officially had no sexual assaults on campus, but some say more policy is still needed (file photo).

Weaver believes that the reluctance of postsecondary institutions to document sexual-assault cases stems from the potential harm to schools’ reputations.

“Institutions of higher learning want to be seen as safe places for students, and reporting out incidences like this would perhaps give the perception that things are not so safe,” says Weaver.

Although Camosun can officially say they’ve had no sexual assaults reported on campus, Camosun College Student Society (CCSS) women’s director Rachael Grant says a lack of policy and the unclear reporting process is problematic.

“I am positive that this is an issue that doesn’t stop when you get on Camosun grounds,” says Grant. “It’s an overarching issue that our society faces. I’m sure that there is data to collect, there just is no current mechanism to do so with.”

Grant believes that Weaver’s new bill could tackle the confusion that many victims and institutions face when it comes to reporting and dealing with a sexual assault.

“For Camosun, to have a sexual-assault policy in place means having a structure that can be utilized to report sexual assaults,” says Grant. “Currently, there is no clear way to report an assault. That discourages people from reporting, and if they do report, there isn’t a standardized way to make sure that person is supported and that due process is followed. To have that articulated structure is key for the safety of our students.”

Camosun has recently been re-examining its sexual-assault policy, and CCSS external executive Andrea Eggenberger says that she’s glad the college started the process before the new bill actually came out.

“It shows that we’re ahead of the game, which is great,” says Eggenberger. “Camosun has taken great strides to fix this problem and is going to be actively engaged with this bill.”

People recently became aware of a series of sexual assaults on the University of Victoria campus, but Weaver says that the problem runs deeper than the commonly available numbers. (BC premier Christy Clark recently pledged to either work with Weaver in ensuring that the Post-Secondary Sexual Violence Policies Act is passed or to develop similar legislation.)

“Fifty UVic students have gone to the sexual assault centre for assistance since September. That’s up from previous years. We only know of four [assaults] publicly, because the police were involved with charges,” says Weaver.

On the same day that Weaver’s bill was tabled, University of Victoria Students’ Society Women’s Centre finance and administration coordinator Daphne Shaed protested the school’s lack of action by wrapping UVic’s main entrance sign on Henderson Road in plastic wrap painted with the words: “2016 No Sexual Assault Policy? Shame.” Shaed says that she wants the university to take responsibility for the sexual assaults happening on campus, and she believes that a sexual-assault policy is needed.

“We are part of a community, and that community needs to have these structures in place,” says Shaed. “Going to the police is not something that everybody wants to do. There has to be ways of being able to address this within the institution, just like how an employer would have similar policies and frameworks for dealing with things in the workplace.”

Shaed says that she hopes Weaver’s bill will “drive a good framework for these postsecondary institutions to have survivor-centric policies in place that will be able to deal with these situations as they arise on these campuses, and enable survivors to heal and to hopefully continue their studies.”

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