University revises policy on sexual, gender violence

A newly revised Policy on Gender-based and Sexual Violence improves the process for disclosure and support at the university, while also shining a brighter spotlight on education and prevention, according to Western officials.

Approved on Thursday by the Board of Governors, the policy will take effect May 2020. The intervening six months will be spent putting into place the strategies and mechanisms for implementation.

“Western has been a leader in the field of gender-based and sexual violence education and prevention in Canada for some time,” said Jennifer Massey, Associate Vice-President (Student Experience). “We’re an institution that believes in deep, holistic, enriched educational experiences. Helping people understand the breadth of gender-based violence, and their role in addressing and eliminating it, is an important part of that.”

This revision – with significant input from undergraduate and graduate students, as well as others across campus – makes education, prevention, disclosure process and support even stronger, she said.

“There have been significant improvements,” added Cat Dunne, Vice-President of Western’s University Students’ Council (USC) and a member of the Policy Review Committee. That includes, she said, inclusion of the term ‘rape culture’ in the document, and improved transparency and process for disclosures, especially in residences.

In March, in response to the Ontario Student Voices on Sexual Violence Survey, Western committed to revising its 2017 policy.

“At that time, we promised more would be done. We also said that involves really listening to our students,” Massey said. “What is important to the policy change is that it involves some deep listening with our student community and also with our staff and faculty.”

Key differences from the 2017 policy include:

  • A more streamlined process that provides more consistency, clarity and accessibility in how students can make disclosures of sexual violence, how those disclosures will be handled and how students can be connected with supports;
  • Better education about sexual violence on campus and an improved culture about sexual violence;
  • Improved communications about the policy and procedures; and
  • More opportunities for ongoing feedback from students, staff and faculty.

“We got a lot of really thoughtful and helpful and constructive critiques of the current policy that we were able to use to make a new policy that is even more survivor-centric and easier to use,” Massey said.

The revisions integrate a complaints process into the policy (instead of its inclusion only in the Code of Student Conduct). Sanctions against offenders can range from a written reprimand to expulsion from campus.

“In the past, if a respondent was unhappy with the outcome of an investigation, in certain circumstances they would have the right to appeal. We’ve now extended that right to appeal to the complainant, as well. That’s a really important change,” Massey said.

The upstander program developed here, and now used at university campuses across Ontario and elsewhere, will also be expanded beyond consent and into treating gender-based violence prevention as a public health concern.

Dunne said it is important students continue to provide input into what works, or what doesn’t, about this policy as it rolls out across campus.

Consultation on the policy this year included two campus-wide surveys to students, staff, and faculty, two phases of open focus groups and collaboration with the USC and the Society of Graduate Students.

Massey said the revisions make this “an incredibly strong” policy that balances survivors’ needs and respondents’ rights to due process; and offers leadership that provides the campus community with “all of the education and training that it needs in order to help us to reduce, with a goal of eliminating, gender-based violence.”

In a related but separate report to Board of Governors, the number of disclosures to the gender-based violence and survivor case support manager totalled 122 between May 2018 and May 2019. That’s an increase from 90 disclosures the previous year.

Massey said the increase suggests improved campus supports, and greater student confidence in those supports, and that the process for disclosure is clea, compassionate and effective. comes with an expectation of more disclosures.

Also in the past year, there were 24 formal complaints and investigations of sexual assault, five of sexual harassment and one of indecent exposure. (National statistics show one in five female students will experience sexual violence before they leave university or college and that  more than 80 per cent of sexual assaults go unreported to police.)

The board was told that similar summaries of disclosure numbers will come forward each June.

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If you have experienced sexual violence and would like support from the university, please contact our Gender-Based Violence & Survivor Support Case Manager

at (519) 661-3568 or