Monday, December 11, 2017

Consensual change: A look at Camosun College’s new Sexual Violence and Misconduct Policy

November 30, 2016 by Quinn Hiebert, contributing writer

As a trauma survivor, I think the fact that Camosun has had no formal way to report incidents of sexualized violence on campus is ridiculous. With close to 10,000 full-time students enrolled at Camosun and the statistic that one in three women are assaulted, I find it hard to believe that absolutely nobody has been targeted at the college.

The trouble is that trauma survivors are taught to keep quiet. Having the courage to speak up starts the flood of ignorant questions or statements. What were you wearing? How much were you drinking? Did you lead them on? Saying “yes” first and then “no” means it wasn’t rape. Not specifically saying “no” means it wasn’t sexualized violence. Boys will be boys. Boys can’t be raped.

Survivors know they’re a target. Predators know their prey; there is a lot of conditioning and behavioural patterns to overcome before a survivor is free of that. I never could break free of fear. Fear causes safe spaces to become unsafe. Fear creates a hyper-vigilance in unsafe spaces. Right now, Camosun College does not have a policy specific to sexualized violence, and this creates an unsafe space for many students.

The college is working on a new Sexual Violence and Misconduct Policy to be launched in May of 2017. But will it be enough?

A PERFECT TRACK RECORD, BECAUSE THERE ARE NO RECORDS

What quickly became obvious to me as I was researching for this story is that Camosun didn’t have any reports of sexualized violence because there’s no way for students to report it. Camosun student Rachael Grant is a student representative on the policy and standards subcommittee of the education council, which is one of the groups involved in creating the new Sexual Violence and Misconduct policy; she says the committee has not been active for quite some time.

“That, I would argue, is largely due to a lack of government funding,” says Grant. “Camosun’s been through a very difficult time for some years now, and they’re in a slightly better financial situation more recently. One of the areas they’ve been able to expand is policy development. It’s so long overdue; there’s so much policy to update and create. It’s really exciting to see this one is a priority, but there’s a lot more coming down the line.”

This story originally appeared in our November 30, 2016 issue.

This story originally appeared in our November 30, 2016 issue.

Camosun vice president of student experience Joan Yates admits that information has been gathered through roundabout ways at the college in the past.

“We weren’t keeping hard numbers,” says Yates, “but we were aware of sexualized violence that might happen off campus—or, conversely, that had happened in the past—mainly because there was often an element of counselling involved in that. That’s how that would make itself apparent to us. Overall, in terms of instant reporting, we didn’t have a mechanism. We were mindful of the fact that it didn’t mean that nothing was going on; it meant that we didn’t know about it. There’s a very big difference between the two.”

There’s no getting around the fact that speaking up is hard. Sexualized violence can be described as an act of control; victims are controlled by securing silence through the act of invasion. They are controlled by society’s inability to accept that this is an issue in Canada. This is why Camosun College needs to have the proper procedures in place for people to be able to file reports. But even if the college has better reporting procedures in place, it’s not a fix-all.

THE UPHILL BATTLE

Camosun College Student Society (CCSS) women’s director Melanie Winter says that being a girl doesn’t necessarily mean that people are going to believe you.

“They don’t feel like they have a way to express that this is happening,” says Winter about those who have experienced sexualized violence. “I don’t think anybody really knows who to even share that with on campus, even with your peers. I don’t think women are safe enough to talk about it.”

There’s also the fear that reporting an incident will bring more harm. Survivors frequently become targets after speaking up; Winter says survivors often ask if people will believe them.

“Even though I’ve never heard somebody say anything to me in particular, we do have conversations among classmates who say that a person is being inappropriate,” says Winter. But we brush it off as being acceptable when it’s unacceptable.”

In May of 2016, the provincial government passed legislation that makes it mandatory for all post-secondary institutions to have a Sexual Violence and Misconduct Policy, which is what Camosun College is currently working on. For those involved in preparing the college’s Sexual Violence and Misconduct Policy, the lack of data has been recognized, and steps are being taken to change that. Grant, who is also the CCSS external executive, says that most of the conversation so far has been about rape culture but says that getting data is also part of the process.

“There’s no real means to collect data around sexualized violence on campus or affecting Camosun students prior, so that’s going to be an important thing when this policy is finalized,” says Grant.

Yates says that the Sexual Violence and Misconduct Policy must have a large survivor aspect to be effective. Part of that is to have former trauma survivors speak up and to give them someone to talk to. Yates says that survivor stories are an integral part of closing gaps within the policy.

“What we’re trying hard to do with the policy is make this not just a numbers game,” says Yates. “We’re incredibly aware that when that policy comes up, we’ve got to have the procedure ready to go. This is where folks who have context for us are so vital and so important.”

IT’S TIME TO TRY HARDER

When I started at Camosun, I had no idea what was going on at the college, or even where I could go to find out. Enrolling at post-secondary as a survivor is an incredibly triggering process. I found it difficult to find information past how to give the college money and the deadlines to do so. As it turns out, there’s more to the Camosun website than info on your courses. But students often don’t realize that.

Grant says that it’s difficult to get the word out about the policy to students, but they’ve had a fair amount of pickup from those wanting to be supportive and get involved (the college wants student input during the policy-development phase). The information has been posted on Camosun’s website, shared on social media and the CCSS app, and given out through various clubs and CCSS student board members. But what happens if you’re not connected to any of those resources? Winter says the only way those students could find out about the policy would be through word of mouth.

“People wouldn’t just go looking for policies on their own,” says Winter. “The policy people coming to students starts the thread of us talking to at least one other person. Hopefully that gets the word out, but people are not going to look for it on their own. I think one of the pieces to the policy is an education piece, so, obviously, this consent workshop is part of the education piece. The college has to do something to have it visible for people to see.”

But it’s not that simple. I can say that, as a trauma survivor, I sped right by the tents containing information on those supportive groups during my first week of class. Running home as fast as I could was more appealing than joining those crowds of people. While I have had to look up policies before, I generally don’t go looking for them unless they’re needed.

As I asked students on campus about the Sexual Violence and Misconduct Policy for this story, I found that none of them had even heard about it; the only person who had was a faculty member. Most students couldn’t comment on what they’d like included in the policy, having never heard of it. A few said that they’d like more awareness raised about it and that it was an important topic; one said that he’d like some kind of enforcement of protection and a spread of information about the policy so that everyone was aware.

From now until January 2017, those involved in preparing the Sexual Violence and Misconduct Policy need student and survivor input. Grant says that the contact information is available on Camosun’s website; she urges students to get involved in any way possible.

“It’s a policy that’s going to impact students and the college community for years,” she says. “It’s an important one to speak up about, and there’s lots of space for it.”

GETTING EDUCATED

Every Tuesday during November, Camosun hosted consent education workshops for students, faculty, and staff. Grant was the lead facilitator for these workshops; she was assisted by the University of Victoria Anti-Violence Project sexualized violence policy advisor Kenya Rogers. Groups like the Victoria Sexual Assault Centre (VSAC) acted as community advisors for the workshops, which were offered on a trial basis. (This issue went to press before the trial period was over; see Camosun’s website for details about whether or not they’re continuing.)

“They are our external bodies that support and build reputations in areas that are super relevant in this policy,” says Grant. “They’ve been brought in to be at the table and have some input into what services exist in town, what language is being used, what the realities are of someone who is a survivor of sexual assault. They’ve been really integral partners in fleshing out the realities of what this policy impact will be and how to best make a policy that best supports students and makes a difference.”

VSAC clinic coordinator Karen Wickham says that the number-one issue is telling people exactly what consent is.

“There were significant changes to the consent laws in terms of age of consent,” says Wickham. “The case law has made it quite clear that it’s not a question of indicating or saying ‘no.’ You have to say ‘yes’ to receiving any sexual activity—having both parties in a stable place, so there’s not a lot of intoxicants on board, and able to say ‘yes’ to each other for everything that they choose to do. And if one party then says they’re done, even if there has been prior consent, that consent is withdrawn and that activity stops.”

The consent workshops that Camosun is offering as part of the policy help people to learn more about rape culture and about how consent is a large part of that.

“One of the parts of that that I’m involved in is the consent-culture training,” says Grant. “It talks about what creates an environment where we have a rape culture, what supports that, and then looking to actively dismantle it by learning language and practices of consent.”

Grant says that starting the conversation has been an amazing thing to see at Camosun.

“There may be thirst for more [workshops], but it’s kind of testing the waters and seeing if this is a good way to start a conversation about consent culture on campus,” says Grant. “There was a good mix of students and college administration at the first one; just having a mix of students and employees of the college in the same room was a powerful dynamic. We’re talking about something that impacts all of us, and it really highlights how seriously this work is being taken.”

While Camosun may not have bars—with the exception of the Dunlop House Pub—or residencies, that doesn’t mean that students don’t go out drinking at clubs and parties. Wickham says that a big issue that comes up with people of college and university age is drug- and alcohol-facilitated sexual assault.

“People are in an extremely vulnerable state when they’re intoxicated,” says Wickham. “Unfortunately, there are some folks out there who will choose to exploit that. It doesn’t necessarily mean that everybody’s out to get someone else, but there are some folks who target people who are extremely vulnerable.”

SAFETY FIRST

The one thing students I spoke with for this story could agree on was that they all felt safe at Camosun, night or day. One reason for that is the CCSS Walk Safer program, which offers students rides in golf carts to their car or to the building they’re heading to.

“I feel pretty safe,” says Camosun student Taylor Hunter. “I have a night class, but at the end of it the past couple times, there’s been a couple people in a golf cart asking if I want a ride to my car.”

One student mentioned wanting some kind of enforcement of protection, but Yates says there is already a college group, Safety Net, that is able to help students who are in crisis on campus.

“One of the things that I think is really terrific is that we’re working to integrate more between students around security issues,” says Yates. “People may not see it; I hope it’s because they don’t need security. I hope it’s for good reason.”

During the creation of the Sexual Violence and Misconduct Policy, Camosun has made a point of giving students the space to contribute and to be heard. Grant says that it’s an inclusive developmental policy by anyone’s standards.

“I’ve taken particular initiative in this policy because I think it’s a really important one to have the student voice incorporated into,” says Grant. “There’s a series of working groups that have been created; one of them is a student working group. The college has been really inclusive with the student voice, including the steering committee, which is a pretty big deal because not a lot of institutions will allow a student to be on the steering committee.”

Winter says that the policy, workshops, and student input give people the chance to speak up if something has happened to them.

“If they notice it happening, they can be more aware or take responsibility for their own well-being by encouraging students to participate in this policy work,” says Winter.

According to Yates, the committee is aware that they need to have someone in place to help the students and to record data.

“One of the elements that we’re considering is something akin to a case manager that will be available for students,” says Yates. “Individuals may do a report; it allows us an element of keeping track statistically so we understand the scope of the problem. It also allows us to be able to say, ‘Here’s what’s available, what do you want to do, how can we help you do that, what do you need at this juncture?’ Along with the reporting piece, it’s about, ‘okay, how do we move you so that you’re getting what you need in respect to the situation?’ That’s being developed now, but we know we need to do that. It’s an incredibly important part of this.”

Grant says that more people participating helps the policy development.

“I think there’s always more room for student feedback,” says Grant. “Camosun College is an incredibly diverse population as far as students go. There’s always more room at the table for other perspectives.”

Wickham says that Camosun has been informed of VSAC’s services and hopes that Camosun would be passing that information on to survivors.

“In terms of a survivor accessing services,” says Wickham, “we expect survivors to make that reach out themselves as part of their healing process and feeling in control of their information.”

Grant encourages anyone who is interested in helping to develop the college’s new policy to get involved.

“It’s such an amazing opportunity to speak up and contribute to something that impacts students so much,” she says. “It’s a really wonderful thing to be involved in, and very impactful. It’s really important to have survivors be a core contributor to this type of work. A survivor-first focus is really integral.”

I grew up being told that my voice didn’t matter. I learned that schools, companies, employers, and co-workers would allow assaults to happen to me. Above all, I learned to stay silent. Camosun is offering the opportunity for survivors to speak up against what has been done to them in a way that will help students in the future.

And I intend to speak up.

THE NEXUS GUIDE TO WHAT CAMOSUN’S NEW SEXUAL VIOLENCE POLICY NEEDS 

Part of the Sexual Violence and Misconduct Policy is education and training. The education portion could include the Victoria Sexual Assault Centre’s four available workshops. Continuing the consent education workshops, which happened at Camosun on a trial basis in November, is also important.

If education and training are to be a part of this policy, they need to be advertised. All education needs to be opened to the whole school, not just to the students who are in certain groups. It isn’t enough that the policy will exist and that workshops are being shared in certain circles; there needs to be huge and obvious advertising to get students’ attention. As we found during this story, students are just not aware of this policy. The college needs to do more to raise awareness.

Camosun needs to bring in a person who is completely independent of the school for students to report to; someone affiliated with the school has the potential to be biased and to take the school’s welfare into greater consideration than the victim’s. Institutions, organizations, and employers can say what they want about it being safe to report to a person, but experience shows a greater interest in the well-being of whoever’s signing the paycheques.

The person being reported to also needs to be inclusive of all genders. Frequently, a victim’s story is ridiculed because they, as some like to say, “don’t have the right parts” for assault, or the person they are trying to talk to isn’t aware that there are more than just men and women out there. Victims need to feel safe and not dismissed because of how they identify or present.

The college needs to have a way for students to report an incident anonymously. Speaking up is the hardest part, and the victim needs to be able to do it in whatever way makes them comfortable. They need to know that no further harm will come to them. They need to know that the college will protect them.

-Quinn Hiebert

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