U of T has released the finalized proposal of its Policy on Sexual Violence and Sexual Harassment.
The 88-point policy comes two months after the university published a draft policy in September. Among other things, the new edition incorporates clearer language about the confidentiality of data during an investigation, expands on the definition of sexual and gender-based harassment, and clarifies the difference between disclosing and formally reporting an incident of sexual violence.
The policy applies to events of sexual harassment or violence that occur on campus, off campus, as well as in the digital space, in the event that both parties are members of the university community.
U of T began developing a framework to deal with incidents of sexual violence on campus in November 2014, with the establishment of the Advisory Committee to the President and Provost on Preventing and Responding to Sexual Violence. Driven in part by Bill 132, which requires all post-secondary institutions to create standalone policies on sexual violence, the university then developed an action plan for preventing and responding to incidents within the community.
The policy is one of four sections of the action plan, which also includes a regular climate survey, education and prevention activities, and a new tri-campus support centre.
U of T’s Media Relations Director Althea Blackburn-Evans explained that the policy will help shape a new, centralized system for accessing support and information. It will also “reduce the need for complainants to repeat their story more than necessary,” she said.
At the heart of the policy is a “survivor-centric” approach that, according to the policy document, prioritizes the well-being of individuals affected by sexual violence.
Under Section IV, for example, complainants are given the autonomy to choose how involved they will be in the investigative process. Subsection F of Section VIII further elaborates that “the Complainant can choose not to request an investigation by the University and has the right not to participate in any investigation that may occur,” and is entitled to receive support regardless of their choice. It also promises that the complainant will be informed of the investigation’s outcome if requested by the complainant with regard to legal limitations about privacy.
The upcoming University of Toronto Sexual Violence Prevention and Support Centre will be the first point of contact for members of the university community who have been affected by sexual violence. It will provide 24-hour staff to guide and support anyone who needs assistance in a “non-emergency situation.”
Another addition to the policy since the September draft was a review process by which complainants can challenge the university’s decision if it chooses not to investigate their reports of sexual violence. In the finalized draft, the complainant can request a review by writing to the Vice-President & Provost within 14 days.
The policy also rules that any informal resolution or mediation will only take place if both parties agree to it and will not require survivors and abusers to meet face-to-face.
All employees of the University of Toronto will be held liable to the policy’s rulings. The new draft adds that this includes “clinical, adjunct, status-only, retired, and visiting faculty,” alongside contract workers and members of the Governing Council.
Most of the other changes made to the policy since the draft were subtle in nature, such as changes in wording. For example, the title of the policy was broadened to cover incidents of ‘sexual harassment’ as well as ‘sexual violence.’
“Overall, the policy has remained largely the same,” clarified Blackburn-Evans. She also said that revisions to language and terminology had been made to address concerns around clarity as well as to reflect feedback received during consultation, adding that the new policy “reflects the comments that we heard.”
The latest policy is the result of several rounds of discussion and consultation from members of the university community since the draft was drawn up earlier this year. According to the Office of the Governing Council’s Agenda, the administration collected feedback from Representative Student Committees, societies, campus groups and digital student consultations.
Ellie Ade Kur, founder of U of T’s branch of Silence is Violence, believes the student consultation process left much to be desired in terms of organization.
In a statement to The Varsity, Ade Kur said that the university “chose to host last-minute, inaccessible consultations over the summer (a low-traffic period on campus) and subsequently downloaded the responsibility of consultations onto student unions and organizations during the busiest portion of the fall term, which impacted each [organization’s] ability to do outreach to the student body.”
Ade Kur also mentioned that many concerns raised during consultations didn’t make it into the finalized draft proposal, including issues with frontline staff receiving complaints of sexual violence.
“There is no outline of what accountability looks like for frontline workers when issues of victim blaming or slut shaming arise,” she said, adding that the policy does not effectively address problems surrounding institutional silencing.
Ade Kur believes that first responders to complaints of sexual violence can shape the way survivors choose to proceed: “There is so much responsibility put onto frontline workers and investigators and no information on what to do, or where to go when these frontline workers fail.”
“This policy doesn’t change the nature of that work,” Ade Kur said. “Our fight continues.”
Pending approval from the Governing Council in December, the policy will come into effect in January 2017.