Provincial law mandates that all universities to have a policy on sexual violence by January 2017. JEFF HITCHCOCK/CC FLICKR

U of T’s Expert Panel on Sexual Violence Policy has released its report outlining its recommendations for the development of a stand-alone policy on sexual violence as required by provincial law. Bill 132, which received Royal Assent in March of 2016, requires Ontario universities to have a stand-alone policy on sexual violence by January 2017.

Now that the consultation is complete and the report has been released, Vice-President and Provost Cheryl Regehr and Vice-President, Human Resources & Equity Angela Hildyard will begin the process of drafting a policy.

The panel consists of five members — chaired by Trinity Provost and Vice-Chancellor, Mayo Moran.

Students, staff, and faculty members were consulted in sessions across U of T’s three campuses. Additional meetings were also held with student unions and Downtown Legal Services. As well, the panel received over 100 submissions through an online feedback form.

The recommendations made by the panel focused on two primary policy issues: the reporting process and the investigation, resolution, and adjudication processes.

The report was divided into the following six categories: General, Definition, Statement of Purpose, Confidentiality, Elements, and Companion Guide – with recommendations made within each category.

The report’s recommendations included the implementation of one universal Sexual Violence Policy (SVP) across the university. Currently, the experience of a sexual violence survivor could vary dramatically depending on their status within the university. The report states: “Given the centrality of the interests protected by a sexual violence policy, the Panel does not believe that it is acceptable to have norms or levels of protection from sexual violence depend on one’s status in the University.”

“SVP takes an intersectional approach that recognizes that complainants from historically marginalized communities may be especially vulnerable to sexual harassment and sexual violence,” reads a portion of the report.

In an email to The Varsity, Moran said, “The panel was fortunate to have excellent student, faculty, and staff membership and we received very thoughtful feedback from all parts of the UT community during the consultations. It is our hope that the recommendations will make a positive difference going forward.”

With regards to the University’s perspective, Regehr told The Varsity,  “The university is very committed to preventing sexual violence on campus, to supporting those affected by it, and to ensuring that all reporting of sexual violence are addressed appropriately.”

“This committee report has provided some important feedback in terms of what kinds of processes and procedures will help us meet the goals that we’ve established. And we know that the new policy will help us improve services for those who have experienced sexual violence,” Regehr added.

When asked if the consultation process was strenuous enough, Regehr mentioned that, through various committees and subcommittees, the consultations for the new policy has been a process, which ultimately began in November 2014.

Ellie Adekur, who is the founder of the UofT branch of Silence is Violence, a university collective led by survivors of sexual violence, was critical of the panel and the report. “The way the expert panel’s consultations were structured is alarming, and indicative of how little effort the University is looking to put into reaching out to tens of thousands of undergraduate students, academic workers and staff on campus,” she said, outlining what she considers the poor timing of the student-consultations over a single month in the summer with little promotion.

When discussing the report itself Adekur said, “The recommendations are a start, but incredibly vague and don’t provide much tangible guidance for those designing policy on campus.”

Adekur also stressed that the university has not acknowledged where administration is failing survivors: “The University’s representatives fail to accommodate complainants through things like victim blaming, institutional silencing and illegal confidentiality agreements. Despite many survivors, organizers and activists on campus very clearly outlining issues in how front-line work is being done at the University, we have yet to hear the Administration comment on these realities of reporting at UofT.”

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