Students suggest changes to sexual violence policy

At a student-only forum, many concerns about Mount Allison’s current policy were raised

Mount Allison’s Policy on Sexual Violence Prevention and Response is to be reviewed this coming May. The policy is in place to protect Mt. A students by preventing sexual violence, highlighting the different roles of University members, and putting in place a system to protect victims of sexual violence and discipline students who have been accused of sexual violence.

These policies on university campuses have been notoriously vague in order to avoid proper, more involved action. On March 7, in the week leading up to International Women’s Day, SHARE held a student-led forum to review Mt. A’s sexual assault policy. Students demanded that the University make changes to the policy in order to better protect its students.

The policy is nearly three years old, and its consent principles and definitions must be updated to include different terms that are part of sexual violence. Some of these terms touch base on technology and how consent can be impacted when it comes into play. For example, recording without consent from all parties perpetrates further sexual violence. Terminology and concepts like rape culture and “stealthing” must be added to the policy in order to better protect and educate students on sexual violence.

Additionally, the policy currently accepts facilitated communication between the victim and the perpetrator as an informal resolution. This means the victim and the perpetrator are to be in the same room on multiple occasions, for approximately two hours at a time, in order to discuss. Students ask that this be abolished completely, or be done by a professional outside of the University community. Facilitated communication between a victim of sexual assault and their assailant can be further traumatising and unnecessary.

As is, the policy requires that case files be destroyed five years after the most recent activity in relation to the file. The records may be kept after five years if they do not contain any personal identifiers. Students request that these files are not to be destroyed. Mount Allison University should be required to keep all records in the event that a survivor makes the decision years later to pursue a criminal case, or simply to come forward with their story. The University’s records could be used as evidence and could greatly benefit the survivor.

Furthermore, the policy requires that the policy is to be reviewed every four years. The process of review must be initiated by the vice-president of international and student affairs. The students request that the policy makes this review process more transparent. What exactly is the process? Who is reviewing the policy? Are students involved in the review? When should the policy review process begin? Making the review process clear in the policy would prevent the University from recycling the policy without properly reviewing and making changes.

Currently, the policy requires that the SHARE advisor maintain annual statistics on reported incidents of sexual violence on campus for the purpose of community education and any legislated reporting that may be required. This data does not include any information that could identify any community members. The students ask that the section be made clearer on where the statistics are kept and who has access to them. From what we know, these statistics have not been properly done. The students suggested that a professional outside the university be brought on campus in order to create these statistics. Statistics on sexual violence at Mt. A are necessary in order to better know which communities are at a higher risk of sexual violence. This would allow the University to take further steps in protecting students. In addition, the students at Mt. A should have the right to know exactly what the risk is of being a victim of sexual violence on campus.

At the present time, the SHARE advisor is employed part-time by the University, yet SHARE is advertised on the University’s website as 24/7. Currently, the policy has no mention of the number of hours the University must employ the SHARE advisor. The students request that the policy requires the University to employ a full-time a SHARE advisor. This could be done by either hiring another part-time SHARE advisor or employing the current SHARE advisor full-time. The students also request that a part-time employee who is not a student oversees the educational part of the SHARE advisor position so the SHARE advisor can focus all their time on helping the survivors on campus. The University employing the SHARE advisor only part time demonstrates that the University does not view sexual assault on their campus as a priority.

Equally important, the policy requires that when a complaint, formal or informal, is made, the assailant be made aware of the identity of the person who has made the accusation. This is done before an investigation is required. This puts the life of the victim at risk by exposing their identity so early on in the process. Students report not coming forward to the SHARE advisor in fear of their safety. The students request that the policy indicate that the identity of the accuser be kept anonymous until it is crucial for the assailant to know the identity. This would make students feel safer and more comfortable coming forward with their stories.

Students from universities all over Canada are beginning to demand change in their sexual violence policies in order to be better protected. Universities must step up, and Mt. A has the opportunity to be a model for other universities and demonstrate that students are heard by applying the changes the students suggested on the sexual violence prevention policy.  Although dozens of suggestions were made, I highlighted some of the crucial ones that were given to the University to review and take into consideration. In order for Mt. A to properly tackle sexual violence on and off campus, they must change their sexual violence prevention policy.

Michelle Roy
Michelle Roy is a contributor to the Argosy.