Educating students about sexual violence is a topic Western refuses to shy away from – instead, university officials say, they confront the topic from Day One.
“We start right away. Our demographics are such that we feel we need to provide a lot of education and awareness about issues like consent,” said Angie Mandich, Western’s acting associate vice-president (Student Experience). “We try to bring all students into the ‘culture of caring’ we have here through initial awareness and ongoing education that sexual assault is not acceptable under any circumstances.”
In the wake of a series of high-profile cases, which have dominated headlines on both sides of the border, the public’s attention has been focused on sexual violence in recent weeks. For postsecondary institutions, a recent Toronto Star investigation into sexual assault policies on Canadian campuses has drawn particular attention to the ways universities are confronting the issue and assisting victims.
At Western, the subject of sexual assault has received intense attention for the last year. For many university officials, the issue gets to the core of who our universities serve.
According to Statistics Canada, there are about 512,000 incidents of sexual assault annually, representing a rate of 1,977 incidents per 100,000 population aged 15 and older. Given approximately nine in 10 sexual assaults go unreported, police-reported sexual assault counts are notably lower, with about 24,200 sexual offences recorded by police.
Victimization rates are dramatically higher among those aged 15-24.
That last fact should be an eye-opener to every university, said Susan Grindrod, Western’s associate vice-president (Housing and Ancillary Services).
“I have been asked many times why we need a specific policy on this. My answer is because of our demographic. Universities are the statistics,” she continued. “This is a special policy around an issue that impacts young people. And that’s who we have here – young people making decisions on these things. So, we need to be prepared to deal with this.
“Having a strong message from the top, along with a strong policy and set of guidelines about how we’re going to handle this, lets everybody know this is an important issue here.”
In September, Western adopted its first standalone Policy on Sexual Violence. Prior to that, sexual violence was – and still is to some extent – addressed by both the Code of Student Conduct and Non-Discrimination/Harassment Policy.
A standalone university policy, however, elevates the issue within the community, Mandich said.
“A policy draws everyone’s attention to the magnitude and importance of the issue,” she continued. “We take sexual assault and prevention very seriously. We want to be proactive in terms educating and raising awareness among all our students so we create a respective climate for all.”
Western’s policy defines sexual violence as “any violence, physical or psychological, carried out through sexual means or by targeting sexuality. This includes sexual abuse, sexual assault or rape. It also includes sexual harassment, stalking, indecent or sexualized exposure, degrading sexual imagery, voyeurism, cyber harassment, trafficking and sexual exploitation.”
It further reiterates the university’s commitment to “providing and maintaining an environment in which sexual violence is not tolerated” among students, staff and faculty alike.
The policy further reads:
The University recognizes that the prevention of, and response to, sexual violence is of particular importance in the university environment. Sexual violence will not be tolerated. Any and all acts of sexual violence will be addressed and individuals who have committed an act of sexual violence will be held accountable.
The University will ensure that appropriate procedures are in place to respond to incidents of sexual violence and to provide support for members of the University community who are victims/survivors of sexual violence, regardless of where such incidents may occur.
The University is committed to on-going education and awareness initiatives about sexual violence, including issues of consent, drug and alcohol use, sexual harassment and cyber harassment. The University will support these initiatives through a dedicated Education and Awareness web page and existing committees such as the Safe Campus Advisory Partners [SCAP] and the Women’s Safety Committee. The University will ensure that these initiatives are broadly communicated to all members of the University community.
Western is in the final stages of approving the guidelines that will allow this policy to be fully implemented across campus.
Beyond the policy, Western continues to educate, support and provide services.
Education and awareness programs come at students from numerous areas – residence, Student Health Services, University Students’ Council, just to name a few. And help for victims, Mandich stressed, should be just as accessible.
Under the Health and Wellness website, health.uwo.ca, the university has established a GET HELP website for anyone who has been sexually assaulted as well as a HELP SOMEONE website for anyone who knows someone who has been assaulted. A RESOURCES website lists additional assistance, including campus and community resources, help lines, police/legal and women’s shelters.
But help is more than a website.
“There are supports – many supports,” Mandich said. “In these situations, individuals who experience sexual assault need to talk to professionals. We have lots of professionals on campus, all with experience dealing with sexual assault. They can connect students to the help they need.”
Beyond the professionals, Grindrod stressed help for victims is a shared responsibility. She cited the university’s See Something, Do Something campaign, presented first in residence, which stresses there are no bystanders when it comes to sexual violence.
“If someone has been assault at Western, they can find help through many doors,” Grindrod said. “The goal is to have lots of people at the university who feel they have the skill, and the information they need, to doing something to help. People seek help from the university in all kinds of ways. We all should be ready to help.”
While few sexual assault victims filed formal reports with police, Statistics Canada reported that most confided in friends (72 per cent) and many turned to family (41 per cent) and other informal sources of support.
“We know that happens,” Grindrod continued. “Victims might not feel comfortable coming forward, but they might tell someone and then it comes forward. It is about providing a safe place, offering emotional support.”
Sexual violence will continue to be discussed at Western, Mandich assured.
Last year, the university formed a committee to bring together leaders across campus, including students, to unify and simply the university’s efforts. The goal was to eliminate duplication and mixed messages in where victims could seek help, and drive information from a single authoritative voice on the issue.
“We are going to continue to proactively discuss this,” Mandich concluded. “Now that it is in the media in many ways, and people are talking about it more and more, this is another opportunity for us to again address this very important and serious issue.”
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GET THE HELP YOU NEED
Sexual Assault is any form any form of sexual activity with another person without his/her consent. It includes touching, grabbing, kissing, and/or attempted or completed oral, anal and/or vaginal intercourse. Don’t assume consent. Anything other than a freely stated ‘yes’ is a ‘no’.
Sexual assault can happen to anyone at any time. If you have experienced a sexual assault, please know you are not to blame. Western has resources and people that can help you get the support you need.
Visit the GET HELP website if you have been sexually assaulted.
Visit the HELP SOMEONE website if you know of someone who has been assaulted.
Visit the RESOURCES website for a list of additional assistance, including campus and community resources, help lines, police/legal and women’s shelters.