A provincial plan to end sexual harassment and violence is going to force universities and colleges to stop ignoring the problem, said the co-ordinator of the Laurentian University Women's Centre.
The plan, entitled “It's Never Okay: An Action Plan to Stop Sexual Violence and Harassment,” targets a number of sectors, including post-secondary institutions, where it sets out to eliminate rape culture on campus.
Among the initiatives set out in the action plan, which was released earlier this month, are:
-Introducing legislation requiring colleges and universities to adopt a sexual assault policy.
-Ensuring each campus has clearly stated complaint procedures.
-Requiring schools to report publicly on incidence of sexual violence.
-Make sure all students have information about sexual violence prevention within their first week of orientation (the Canadian Federation of Students said many on-campus sexual assaults occur during the first eight weeks of classes).
“I think this plan's going to be great,” said Robyn Rowe, co-ordinator of the Laurentian University Women's Centre.
“I think it's really going to benefit university and college campuses a lot to actually force them to open their eyes to the problem and not just turn a blind eye to it, or pass the problem on to the next person.”
Rowe said she's met with survivors of on-campus sexual harassment and violence, and heard about other incidents through colleagues.
She said the thing that sticks out for her in hearing their stories is the lack of co-ordination when it comes to reporting such incidents.
“You tell your teacher, and then you to tell someone else, and then they tell you to tell someone else, and you keep having to repeat the same story,” Rowe said.
“That's very traumatizing. It would be great to have a service where everybody is on the same page.”
Erik Labrosse, Laurentian's director of student life, said the university is in the process revising its sexual assault policy in consultation with students and other stakeholders.
While Labrosse said Laurentian is working to comply with the new legislation, he said it already does a good job with prevention activities and resources for sexual assault survivors.
“I think we pride ourselves on working hard to create a community that is welcoming, safe and secure,” he said.
Colleges Ontario, the advocacy organization for the province's 24 colleges, is taking the lead in responding to the action plan.
The group has come up with a template for sexual violence and harassment policies and protocols to be adapted by each college. These policies are set to be publicized by each college March 31.
Colleges Ontario CEO Linda Franklin said the new policy framework represents best practices available.
She said she's especially glad to see colleges will now have to report on sexual harassment and violence numbers.
“There'll be a more robust and more complete body of statistics,” Franklin said.
A press release put out by Cambrian College earlier this month said the action plan addresses a request from college presidents to enhance emergency help-line services.
“Campus safety and support is a priority at Cambrian,” said Cambrian president Bill Best, in a press release.
“It has been clear in our consultations with students and others that enhancing emergency help-line services is an important step in strengthening support for survivors. As such, we are pleased by the measures announced by the Ontario government today.”
At Collège Boréal, there's been no reports of sexual harassment or sexual violence for the past decade, said Jacqueline Gauthier, the college's senior adviser, communications and public affairs.
But that doesn't mean she thinks the measures being brought in by the province are unnecessary.
“The $100 question when it comes to sexual harassment or anything of the sort is, are people not telling us because there's no system or policy in place to deal with it,” Gauthier said.
“It's a chicken and the egg kind of thing. At least having the policy in place will give us the tools to actually manage anything that comes up in the future, and hopefully it will give our students and staff the confidence to step forward if they are a victim of any sort of harassment.”