Photo By: Charl Folscher from Unsplash

CONTENT WARNING: this article touches on topics of sexual and gender-based violence and harassment.

Following recently reported incidents of sexual violence at Western University and recommendations from the Ontario Undergraduate Student Alliance (OUSA), the Ontario government is now moving forward with a few regulatory amendments that seek to strengthen support for postsecondary students when reporting cases of sexual violence or harassment.

These changes will require all publicly assisted colleges and universities, as well as private career colleges to update their sexual violence and harassment policies in order to shield students from irrelevant questions during sexual violence investigations at institutions, and ensure that they can safely bring forward complaints without fear of disciplinary action.

“Our number one priority is the safety of students – everyone should be able to pursue their studies on or off campus without worrying about sexual violence or harassment,” said Jill Dunlop, Ontario Minister of Colleges and Universities in a statement. “That’s why [we are] working with postsecondary institutions to update their sexual violence and harassment policies to better support students who have already gone through a difficult experience and may be feeling scared and vulnerable.” 

These institutions are required to review their sexual violence policies and amend them by March 1, 2022 so they provide that:

– A complainant acting in good faith, who discloses or reports sexual violence, will not be subject to actions for violations of the institution’s policies related to drug and alcohol use at the time the sexual violence took place.

– During the institution’s investigative process, students who share their experience of sexual violence through disclosing, accessing support, and/or reporting to the university or college, will not be asked irrelevant questions from institution’s staff or investigators, such as those relating to past sexual history or sexual expression.

These amendments come in addition to previously implemented measures, including requiring colleges and universities to report annually to their board of governors on measures related to the experiences of, and support for, students who have experienced sexual violence. All postsecondary institutions in the province are also required to review their sexual violence policies every three years.

While these amendments are a move in the right direction, there remains more work to be done in order to eliminate incidents of sexual violence at institutions across the province. Through routine consultation with student representatives and continued effort from policymakers, it is possible to increase campus safety and to reduce concerns and stigma for students who make an allegation of sexual violence or harassment.

“This past week has been a devastating reminder of the prevalence of sexual and gender-based violence on our campuses and the work that still needs to be done to protect and support students across the province,” said Eunice Oladejo, President of OUSA and Vice-President External Affairs at the University Students’ Council at Western University. “However, we are encouraged to see the government implement OUSA’s recommendations to ensure that survivors of sexual and gender-based violence can come forward without fear of facing questions about their sexual history or expression, and that they will be protected from repercussions for lesser policy violations.”

Brock students who are in need of emergency support while on campus are encouraged to contact campus security at 905-688-5550 ×3200. Additionally, students are able to make use of the 24-hour sexual violence texting support line at 289-990-7233. The Niagara Sexual Assault Centre also offers a 24-hour crisis and information line for residents in the region that can be reached at 905-682-4584.