Content warning: descriptions of sexual violence.
A high number of reported sexual harassment, non-consensual sexual experiences, and lack of knowledge around university support systems were sobering highlights from the results of a sexual violence survey released on March 19 by the provincial government.
The Student Voices on Sexual Violence Survey was sent to over 746,000 full-time students in Ontario from February to March 2018 by the Ministry of Advanced Education and Skills Development, now the Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities (TCU).
The ministry had come under fire for the delay in releasing results, following reporting by The Varsity and the Queen’s Journal, Queen’s University’s student newspaper.
TCU Minister Merrilee Fullerton acknowledged that the released results were not comprehensive because the government needed to “protect the privacy of the survey participants.” She said that the ministry will be consulting Ontario’s Information & Privacy Commissioner Brian Beamish “on the release of additional survey results.”
In response to the released results, Fullerton announced that the provincial government plans to double investment in the Women’s Campus Safety Grant this year to $6 million. The annual grant funds campus initiatives including public education, drafting policy to prevent sexual violence, and improving security systems at universities.
The government will also require all publicly-assisted colleges and universities to review their sexual violence policies by September, create task forces to address sexual violence on campus, and draft an annual reports to their board of governors about measures taken in response to sexual violence on campus.
A 37-page report summarizes the survey, which was administered by CCI Research Inc. and includes responses from 117,148 full-time university students of 441,499 invited, among other categories.
The report warns against interpretations of smaller data sets and comparing data between institutions; due to the voluntary nature of the report, each institution had a differing number of respondents.
Of 104,238 responses to five questions about knowledge of sexual violence supports at U of T, 61.7 per cent reported that they did not understand how to access supports related to sexual violence and did not understand the wider process for reporting incidents of sexual violence.
Out of 3,514 responses to eight questions, 42.4 per cent reported dissatisfaction with the U of T’s institutional response to sexual violence, which includes believing survivors of sexual violence and creating an environment where sexual violence is recognized as a problem.
In U of T students’ perception of consent, 89.6 per cent of 146,068 responses to seven questions demonstrated an understanding of consent as: revocable at any time, not measured by physical resistance, and required even when affected by decision-altering substances, among others — the remaining responses either took a neutral stance or disagreed with the above definitions.
U of T also had a high proportion of students who reported witnessing sexual violence including physical or verbal abuse, helping someone who was intoxicated, or informing university officials.
68.7 per cent of respondents reported being witnesses, with 67.3 per cent of those saying that they intervened in situations when incidents of sexual violence were witnessed.
4,628 respondents from U of T reported experiences of stalking and 12,293 reported instances of sexual harassment, including discrimination based on gender identity or sexual orientation and online and physical harassment.
3,602 out of 20,942 U of T students reported non-consensual sexual experiences, part of the 26,824 students from the broader university sector who reported instances of non-consensual sexual experiences.
New Democratic Party criticizes funding as insufficient
In response to a question asked during a press conference on the topic about whether the survey’s results warrant “greater action” than her announcements today, Fullerton said that the government’s plans are an “immediate response to an issue that has only just been reported back to [them],” but did not give further specifics about future plans.
Suze Morrison, a New Democratic Party MPP and the official opposition critic for women’s issues, lambasted the funding increase to the Women’s Campus Safety Grant as insufficient. She said that if the Ontario government was “serious about addressing the underlying systemic issues of… gender-based and sexual violence,” it would deliver on “promised funding to rape crisis centres across Ontario.”
The previous Liberal government had promised $14.8 million over three years to these centres as part of its gender-based violence strategy, but the current Progressive Conservative government has suspended plans for this funding.
Council of Ontario Universities welcomes data, U of T hopes to expand outreach
Sandy Welsh, leader of the Council of Ontario Universities’ Reference Group on Sexual Violence and Vice-Provost Students at U of T, was asked by The Varsity if her group would conduct follow-up or recurring surveys on sexual violence. Welsh deferred to the ministry, saying, “I cannot speak for what the ministry may do. I think it’s an important survey. We’re glad to have these results and look forward to any discussions in the future about other ways to survey.”
U of T Sexual Violence Prevention & Support Centre Director Angela Treglia spoke to The Varsity on the low proportion of students who felt that they understood the process for reporting instances of sexual violence.
“We have work to do to build and develop the awareness of the services that are available to people who’ve been affected by sexual violence on our campuses,” Treglia said. “We know and we want to get it right.”
The centre is a recent tri-campus development, having opened in 2017 with Treglia’s appointment as director. According the Treglia, the centre has held 200 workshops, reaching 8,000 participants at U of T, and continues to develop a system for supporting students so that “they have a place that they can go for confidential support and know that they’re not alone.”
On whether the initiatives announced by the ministry would be helpful to the centre, Treglia declined to comment. Treglia later went on to say that “we are striving and committed to creating a culture of care and a culture of consent on our campus.”
If you or someone you know has been affected by sexual violence, you can call:
- Assaulted Women’s Helpline at 1-866-863-0511 (Toll Free), 1-866-863-7868 (TTY), and 416-863-0511 (Toronto)
- Support Services for Male Survivors of Sexual Abuse at 1-866-887-0015
- Toronto Rape Crisis Centre: Multicultural Women Against Rape at 416-597-8808
- Good2Talk Student Helpline at 1-866-925-5454
- Gerstein Crisis Centre Crisis Line at 416-929-5200
- U of T Health & Wellness Centre at 416-978-8030
- Sexual Violence and Prevention Centre at: (416) 978-2266 and firstname.lastname@example.org
- UTSG: Gerstein Science Information Centre (Gerstein Library), Suite B139
- UTM: Davis Building, Room 3094
- UTSC: Environmental Science & Chemistry Building, EV141.