Following provincial legislation requiring universities to create a sexual violence policy by January 2017, the provost released a draft of the University of Toronto’s policy on September 7. The draft is open to consultation and rewriting until January 2017.
The policy is the result of 18 months of research and consultation by an expert panel composed of two students, two faculty members, and one staff member.
Beginning in November 2014, the consultation process focused on five key issues: establishing a new policy; reviewing the existing policy, education and violence prevention; building a new response centre; and conducting a climate survey.
After finishing research for the policy in February, the expert panel on policy — led by Trinity Provost and former Dean of the U of T Faculty of Law, Mayo Moran — met with students, faculty and staff throughout the summer and released a report in August outlining recommendations for the policy.
The policy draft covers the process of reporting or disclosing an act of sexual violence — whether or not that act was perpetrated by a member of the university community or committed on campus.
All members of the university community will be covered by a single policy in any situation, per the expert panel’s recommendations.
The policy also proposes the establishment of a Sexual Violence Prevention and Support Centre, which would undertake education and prevention initiatives to ensure that a culture of sexual violence is not tolerated .
A portion of the policy reads, “Sexual Violence can be committed against any person and is an issue that requires an inclusive response. The University recognizes that Sexual Violence is overwhelmingly committed against women, and in particular women who experience the intersection of multiple identities such as, but not limited to, indigenous women, women with disabilities, and racialized women.”
The Sexual Violence Climate Survey — a survey created for the purpose of “benchmarking, understanding, and addressing sexual violence in the University community” — is not yet complete. Its administration will be led by Sandy Welsh, the Vice-Provost of Students and appointee at the Department of Sociology whose research focus is workplace and sexual harassment.
One way the university plans to reduce barriers to accessing support services is by not requiring that a complainant file a report to be able to use academic accommodations such as exam or assignment deferrals, or housing services such as relocation, and counselling. If the respondent is a student, they also have access to many such services.
While the Sexual Violence Prevention and Support Centre will be central to educational and preventative efforts, reports and subsequent investigations will be dealt with through the Office of Safety and High Risk. Vice-President and Provost Cheryl Regehr made it clear in an interview with the The Varsity that this was deliberate. According to her, keeping support and investigative services separate ensures that both processes function properly and that the people working with all involved parties play very different roles in their recovery.
Both the complainant and the respondent will have access to the investigator’s name and particulars about the case. The office will then inform both parties of the results of the investigation, which could lead to a hearing. Should a party disagree with the decision, they could file for an appeal with the Discipline Appeals Board.
In the case of a staff member respondent, the Vice-President, Human Resources and Equity will review the investigation. In the case of a faculty or librarian respondent, The Vice-President and Provost will review the case details and coordinate with the Vice-President, Human Resources and Equity to determine the appropriate remedy.
Overall, the policy draft covers many issues pertaining to sexual violence. This includes: acknowledging that members of the university community who live at the intersection of many identities are at higher risk of sexual violence; understanding that disclosure and reporting are different; and recognizing that “individuals who have experienced Sexual Violence experience a range of physical and psychological effects that can profoundly affect their lives.”
Regehr will continue to present the draft policy to governance boards until its completion at the end of the year.
The University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU) and the Graduate Students’ Union (UTGSU) are holding consultation sessions for U of T students regarding the new policy. The UTSU’s event will be held September 19 from 1:00–3:00 pm at the Multi-Faith Centre. The UTGSU is holding two consultations September 22 from 12:00–2:00 pm in the Davis building at UTM and on September 29 from 6:00–8:00 pm at an undetermined location on UTSG. Their UTSC consultation occurred September 15.
For those who cannot make the sessions, the UTGSU has created an online feedback form, and the UTSU has encouraged students to email them their feedback. A portion of the UTSU Facebook event description reads, “For years, universities have failed victims and survivors of sexual violence, and it is crucial that advocate [sic] for a policy that is responsive to the needs of our community members.”