U of T releases survey on sexual violence

Survey driven by provincial legislation

U of T releases survey on sexual violence

Students are receiving email invitations from the administration to participate in a ‘Student Voices on Sexual Violence’ survey, an initiative mandated by the provincial government.

U of T is surveying all full-time students from February 26 to March 26 as a “tool for benchmarking and understanding sexual violence on university campuses,” according to a statement from Vice-Provost Students Sandy Welsh.

The survey is being conducted at institutions across the province by CCI Research Inc. on behalf of the Ministry of Advanced Education and Skills Development. Ontario Bill 132, which amended the Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities Act to include a section on sexual violence, is the legal mandate behind the survey.

The amendment sets requirements for Ontario postsecondary institutions regarding data collection and sexual violence reporting.

It also defines sexual violence as “any sexual act or act targeting a person’s sexuality, gender identity or gender expression, whether the act is physical or psychological in nature, that is committed, threatened or attempted against a person without the person’s consent, and includes sexual assault, sexual harassment, stalking, indecent exposure, voyeurism and sexual exploitation.”

Students are incentivized to complete the 20-minute survey with a $5 electronic gift card for Amazon, Starbucks, or Indigo.

The survey includes questions regarding personal information, experiences with sexual violence, understanding of consent, knowledge of support and reporting resources, and level of satisfaction with the university’s handling of sexual violence cases.

Silence is Violence (SiV), an anti-sexual violence student advocacy group on campus, has had its own sexual violence survey open to the public since February 13. SiV’s survey was launched after a year and a half of development, and it was not created in response to the university’s survey.

Jessica Wright, who conducts research at SiV, is critical of the fact that the initiative for the survey came from a government mandate. Wright expressed skepticism about how the information will be used and about whether the U of T survey will be effective. “Part of the culture of the university perpetuates the cultural conditions that make rape and sexual assault so horrifyingly common,” she said.

In a statement on U of T News, Welsh said that the feedback from the survey “will help us better understand the experiences of our students and their needs and concerns.”

Welsh further added, “This will ultimately help us improve the university’s support services for our community.”

If you have experienced sexual violence you can call Campus Police at (416) 978-2222 for UTSG and UTSC or (905) 569-4333 for UTM.

Support is also available through the Sexual Violence Prevention and Support Centre, which can be reached by phone at (416) 978-2266 and is located at 702 Spadina Avenue at UTSG, Room 3094G in the Davis Building at UTM, and Room 141 in the Environmental Science & Chemistry Building at UTSC.

Changes to U of T’s Sexual Violence Centre parallel recent global events

Re: “Sexual violence centre sees structural changes in leadership”

Changes to U of T’s Sexual Violence Centre parallel recent global events

Just this past weekend at the Golden Globes, women in the entertainment industry made a bold statement against sexual violence. Many prominent actresses invited women’s rights advocates to accompany them to the event, and together they raised awareness for the #TimesUp campaign, which raises money to help pay the legal fees of sexual assault victims.

This, along with movements such as the widespread #MeToo campaign, suggests that our culture is beginning to face up to the startling realities of sexual violence. In many respects, the current discussion we are having will lead to seismic changes, as it should. In others, changes will be small, but should nevertheless not go without their due praise.

The recent changes made by the university to restructure the Sexual Violence Prevention and Support Centre, for instance, is a relatively small change. The centre has split a portfolio between two staff members, stating that delegating responsibility in this way will ensure each part of this portfolio is granted more time and attention.

The willingness to make this change seems to indicate that those in charge actually care about the work they do and about improving their services for students. This sentiment is also supported by the fact that that the centre promises to try to minimize disruptions, vowing that students who seek assistance over a period of time will be able to work with the exact same staff.

It is unclear whether the restructuring of this portfolio was in direct response to the current conversation taking place, or merely in the spirit of improving services long-term. However, any attempt to improve the quality of care to those who have suffered from sexual violence should be noted and appreciated, particularly within the current social climate.

Vidhant Pal is a graduate student at the Institute of Biomaterials and Biomedical Engineering.

Putting trauma in print

As sexual assault allegations continue to surface in the media, journalists must critically examine their responsibilities as storytellers and public informants

Putting trauma in print

Significant media attention has been focused on the explosive accusations of sexual assault and misconduct recently leveled against some of the most powerful men in entertainment and politics. As story after story has been broken — from Harvey Weinstein to Kevin Spacey to Louis CK — the voices of those victimized by sexual violence have reached the ears of international audiences.

More disturbing still is that many of these highly publicized outcries are paralleled by the experiences of the people around us. The social media campaign #MeToo has emboldened hundreds of our peers to share that they have been victims of sexual violence and harassment. Tamsyn Riddle’s human rights complaint against Trinity College and the University of Toronto for allegedly mishandling her sexual assault case is still ongoing. Around the same time the CK story came out, one of The Varsity’s masthead members received a wholly unsolicited pornographic photo from another student.

Sexual violence is not limited to what is portrayed by international headlines: it is a nefarious reality that will affect most people in some way during their lives. It is also something that has proven very difficult to talk about for many people. These cases involve vulnerable persons and deeply intrusive information, not to mention facts that can be muddled by stereotypes and by the competing interests of the implicated parties.

It is the media who are given the incredibly important task of consolidating the facts into a narrative, of informing the public in the way that is both ethical and true. In light of the sensitive nature of sexual violence cases, journalists must critically examine the means by which they carry out their duties in this respect.

On November 15, in partnership with Silence is Violence, The Varsity hosted a panel entitled “Responsible Reporting on Sexual Violence.” Led by Globe and Mail reporter Robyn Doolittle, Toronto Life writer Lauren McKeon, and  activist and co-founder of grassroots organization femifesto Shannon Giannitsopoulo, the discussion centred on how media professionals can adopt appropriate reporting practices and reconcile any legal or ethical conflicts they encounter.

In the Unfounded series Doolittle spearheaded at the Globe, it was revealed that one in five claims of sexual assault in Canada are dismissed by police as baseless. While some complaints may indeed have been unfounded, in other cases, blatant negligence or misogyny on the part of police forces — such as in the famous case of Doe v. Metropolitan Toronto Commissioners of Police — have left complainants out in the cold, aggravating feelings of fear or mistrust when dealing with police in general.

When complainants do not feel comfortable dealing with police, or they feel as if their cases are not being taken seriously, the media can play a role in helping them achieve justice. In this sense, journalists are often known both for blowing the whistle on powerful people and for battling against efforts being made to bury the hatchet.

The Harvey Weinstein case is particularly galling given the complicity and wilful blindness demonstrated by Weinstein’s many enablers, and the lengths to which the producer went to cover up his actions. In a follow-up to his original exposé in The New Yorker, Ronan Farrow revealed that Weinstein had enlisted ex-Mossad agents to get close to some of his victims and mine them for information, sometimes under the guise of being women’s rights advocates. Journalists who were in dogged pursuit of Weinstein, including Jodi Kantor of The New York Times and Farrow himself, were also targeted by Weinstein for investigation.

Given the influence of the media in shaping people’s perceptions of events, journalists must ensure that their work does not further contribute to the conditions that can make coming forward about sexual violence so difficult. At the same time, many people are genuinely concerned about the influence media coverage might have on the public’s perception of accused persons. What is often alluded to in this regard is the presumption of innocence under section 11(d) of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which requires the accused to be presumed innocent until the  Crown can prove the charges against them beyond a reasonable doubt and before an independent and impartial tribunal.

The presumption of innocence is an important and often misconstrued idea that, in the context of sexual assault cases, squarely applies to representatives in the criminal justice system. Given that the media is neither a criminal law institution nor a representative of the government, it does not owe the accused the same right; rather, it finds its obligations within defamation law, an entirely different set of standards.

Nevertheless, media professionals are also required to be watchful of baseless allegations — in acknowledgment that a false or misleading story can potentially ruin the life of the person about whom it is written. As Doolittle pointed out, journalists tend to be extremely cautious when writing about sexual assault, including through the use of words like ‘alleged’ or ‘accused’ when discussing claims yet to be confirmed by the courts.

Reporting on these stories can therefore involve a delicate balancing act, one often sorted out case by case. The discussion that took place at the panel last week provided insight into the steps journalists can take to ensure they are engaging in appropriate practices.

For one, journalists should be keenly aware of the impact stories might have on the people represented in them. Before publishing the Unfounded series, Doolittle gave each of her interviewees the option to be quoted anonymously or to withdraw from the story altogether. She was careful to emphasize the importance of explaining to complainants how their lives would be affected by going public with their stories.

Another point of caution pertains to language usage. In a guide entitled “Use the Right Words: Media Reporting on Sexual Violence in Canada,”  femifesto advises journalists to omit details about the accused that might serve to imply that they are not ‘the type’ to commit such acts. This is to avoid the pitfalls of media attention centred on people like Brock Turner, a former Stanford student who was convicted of assault with intent to rape an intoxicated woman. Turner was often referred to in headlines as a “Stanford swimmer” rather than, for example, ‘the convicted felon.’

Finally, accusations made against certain people cannot be differentially treated on the basis of the institutions in which they work, or ‘the type’ of people we think they are. As allegations against Bill O’Reilly, Roger Ailes, Mark Halperin, and others have shown, the media itself is hardly immune to outbreaks of sexual misconduct. An anonymous spreadsheet entitled “SHITTY MEDIA MEN” — the virtual embodiment of a whisper network — circulated online last month, allowing women to document their disturbing experiences with men in the media. This means that journalists should not only take great care when reporting on the experiences of others, but they must also watch for any violence happening around them.

Reporting on sexual violence is an immensely important responsibility, and the integrity and critical self-reflection that must underlie journalistic practices in this regard cannot be understated. The sheer number of accused abusers and misogynists seemingly crawling out of the woodwork might make us enraged or pessimistic, particularly since so many stories festered for years before being brought to the surface. But as McKeon put it, the current momentum of these stories also provides journalists with an opportunity to shed light on those not being told.

The Varsity’s editorial board is elected by the masthead at the beginning of each semester. For more information about the editorial policy, email editorial@thevarsity.ca.

Responsible reporting on sexual violence

Robyn Doolittle, Shannon Giannitsopoulou, and Lauren McKeon joined The Varsity to discuss responsible journalism for difficult subject matter

Responsible reporting on sexual violence

At the end of the last academic year, my friend Tamsyn Riddle announced she was filing a human rights complaint against U of T and Trinity College for their handling of her sexual violence complaint. Shortly after, I was elected as The Varsity’s Features Editor. Throughout the summer, while working a nine-to-five job, I began preparing potential feature stories for this year. Following the aftermath of ex-CBC radio host Jian Ghomeshi’s sexual assault acquittal, I was adamant that the issue of sexual violence needed to be covered in-depth in my section — I just didn’t know how.

It was sometime during my two-hour commute to work that I came up with the idea for a series on the subject. I wasn’t entirely sure how it would look, but I knew it would be a multifaceted endeavor.

In the middle of the summer I caught up with Riddle in a small Annex diner. I wanted to get her opinion on the potential series. She liked the idea, agreed the issue should be covered, and expressed interest in writing a feature on her experience reporting her assault to the university.

Her article was published on September 25. In the process of editing the story, I had multiple conversations with the Editor-in-Chief and Riddle herself on whether to name faculty and staff members relevant to her story. Because the story was a first-person narrative, it didn’t make sense to reach out to those mentioned for comment. Instead, with Riddle’s permission, we included an editor’s note at the top of the article explaining that “allegations made toward the faculty members and staff members identified in this article are unproven in court;” Riddle could write an open account of her experience, and The Varsity could protect itself legally.

The conversations we had in the newsroom regarding this article were crucial. We all recognized the importance of publishing the story, but the path to doing so was not clear-cut. I wanted Riddle’s story published, but I also wanted to ensure I was being fair to all those involved. Ultimately, the topic of the Responsible Reporting on Sexual Violence panel, hosted at The Varsity on November 15, stemmed from this tension: how should journalists cover stories of sexual violence in a respectful and responsible way?

I had the privilege of hosting this panel discussion and moderating it with Riddle. The Varsity collaborated on the event with a sexual violence activist organization at U of T that Riddle is a member of called Silence is Violence. The panelists came from an array of backgrounds and spoke from varying perspectives. Shannon Giannitsopoulou is the co-founder of femifesto, a feminist organization based in Toronto. She is also a contributing writer for “Use the Right Words: Media Reporting on Sexual Violence in Canada,” a guide for the media when covering issues concerning sexual violence. Her perspective was valuable at the panel because it is not from inside the media itself, but rather from working to educate those who work in the media and how they should cover the subject.

Lauren McKeon, our second panelist, has primarily worked in magazines. She is currently the digital editor at The Walrus and a contributing editor at Toronto Life. McKeon also taught at Humber College and is the author of F-Bomb: Dispatches from the War on Feminism. Her article for Toronto Life, “Fifteen years of silence: I was raped three times in less than 10 years. I knew all of my attackers. This is my story,” was an honest and raw portrayal of the experiences of a sexual violence survivor. I was grateful to have her speak at the event.

Our final panelist, Robyn Doolittle, broke one of the largest stories in recent Canadian history on police treatment of those who formally report their sexual assaults. Her investigation took approximately 20 months, during which she explored instances of police dismissing sexual assault cases as “unfounded” — essentially, when police believed the assault never occurred. Before this “Unfounded,” article, Doolittle wrote for the Toronto Star covering former Toronto Mayor Rob Ford. Given the breadth of her coverage and implications it has had on policy, we were happy to have her attend the panel.

With the unique experiences of these three women, the conversation was extremely insightful. It explored questions that I had as a student journalist who has covered this topic, and it showcased perspectives I hadn’t considered. In this vein, I thought it was fitting to break down the key issues discussed at the event — for the public, for journalists, and for myself.

We need to take this moment now as journalists to look at what stories aren’t being told…what we’re missing, what we’re going to tell, and how we’re going to tell it.

SEXUAL VIOLENCE REPORTING IN THE MEDIA

Over the last few weeks, the outcry of sexual assault allegations against multiple men in Hollywood has been astonishing. Riddle asked the panelists how these stories and similar ones impacted conversations about sexual violence and its media coverage.

Giannitsopoulou began by mentioning that, when working on femifesto’s guide in 2011, a lot of these large stories were not yet published. She’s pleased that the guide was created before the Ghomeshi case and the Harvey Weinstein scandal because it’s readily available at a time when reporters need it.

Giannitsopoulou also discussed the importance of diversity of stories, paying particular attention to whose stories are told and which stories garner attention and space. She said, “Indigenous women from Saskatchewan that were missing… have 3.5 times less coverage than women in Ontario that were also murdered and missing. And they were less likely to have images of the women.” Giannitsopoulou continued by pointing out that Indigenous women who are shown in newspapers are more likely to be “on the corner of the page and not on the front page.”

McKeon agreed with Giannitsopoulou, saying, “I think we need to take this moment now as journalists to look at what stories aren’t being told… what we’re missing, what we’re going to tell, and how we’re going to tell it.” Given the increasing coverage of this subject, McKeon said that “now’s the time that there is this appetite for [sexual violence coverage] and people are really listening… which is both encouraging and a little depressing.”

Doolittle discussed the impact these stories have had on policy given the increased attention. She specifically spoke about the implications of her Unfounded series: “since Unfounded ran in February… something like half of the police services in this country have reviewed thousands of sexual assault cases, they’re passing policies around having supervisors involved in decisions, they’re doing a training overhaul that takes the neurobiology of trauma into account, the federal government has committed a hundred million dollars to address violence against women.”

MIN HO LEE/THE VARSITY

TERMINOLOGY IN SEXUAL VIOLENCE STORIES

Language was, unsurprisingly, discussed at length. I asked the panelists what process journalists should follow when choosing language and phrasing about sexual violence. The question stemmed from my understanding of sexual violence terminology, specifically the common use of the term ‘survivor’ over ‘victim.’

Acknowledging that wording can be “tricky,” Giannitsopoulou stressed the importance of ensuring the consent of a source when deciding how they will be identified in a story: “I personally prefer the word ‘survivor.’ I think it underlines resilience. But some people don’t like the word ‘survivor’, some people prefer the word ‘victim’ because it speaks to their experience of healing.”

While objectivity is key when reporting, Giannitsopoulou mentioned that all language has connotations and that “no language is neutral.”

Doolittle mentioned that the “Use the Right Words” campaign Giannitsopoulou has worked on in femifesto has taught her a lot as a journalist. “What it’s really taught me is that journalists are very careful about some of the language they use around sexual assault allegations and not careful around allegations for other crimes.”

Instead of removing the term ‘allegedly’ when reporting on sexual violence, Doolittle suggested that news reporters and investigative journalists actively include the term when referring to other types of crime. In doing so, the term ‘allegedly’ is no longer associated with sexual violence but rather all unproven crimes. Additionally, Doolittle doesn’t use the terms ‘survivor’ or ‘victim’ in her reporting unless a court ruling is made — she often uses the term ‘complainant’ instead.

“If I say someone was a victim of sexual assault, I am saying it happened. If I say they were a victim, I am saying it happened. And, it’s not that I don’t believe them… but I do the story a disservice by not being as objective as possible,” said Doolittle.

McKeon spoke on the relationship between language, communication, and trust, saying that once trust is broken between a reporter and their source there’s little way to reclaim it. Because sexual violence survivors already face high rates of skepticism, confidence in a reporter for accurately sharing their stories is imperative, McKeon added.

HOW #METOO AND SOCIAL MEDIA ACTIVISM SHAPES COVERAGE

Given the virality of the #MeToo campaign following Weinstein’s coverage and the popularity of the hashtag #BeenRapedNeverReported a few years earlier, I was interested in what the panelists thought about social media activism, if it has helped progress conversations, and if it has influenced their work.

McKeon said that social media activism encouraged her to come forward with her own story, and that online activism and hashtags have the potential to build a community. However, she said that journalists should use online sexual violence trends as “a launching off point.”

“What we have to do though is find a way to move beyond those hashtags in our reporting, because they don’t tell the whole story,” said McKeon.

Doolittle expressed that the power of #MeToo was in demonstrating both explicit instances of sexual violence and injustices that women face on a daily basis.

Giannitsopoulou discussed the subject of social media activism and the #MeToo campaign as requiring nuance: “I’m glad that people are sharing their stories, but I don’t want survivors to feel like if they’re not feeling safe or if they don’t want to share their stories that their experience as a survivor is not valid.

“I would also not like to put the onus on survivors to have to keep telling our stories when we know one in three women, one in six men have experienced sexual violence in their lifetime, and [for] trans and non-binary folks it’s disproportionately higher than that,” said Giannitsopoulou.

Throughout my process of organizing and moderating this panel, one common theme stood out: consent in reporting. While there are a variety of considerations to take into account when reporting on issues of sexual violence — and I definitely learned a lot — it’s important to remember that, as McKeon stated, “No survivor owes you their story.”

It is crucial for us as journalists to ensure open communication, respect, and to uphold the consent of survivors in each step of the publishing process. This includes consent with terminology, consent to going on record, and consent to sharing their story.

— With files from Priyanka Sharma.

MIN HO LEE/THE VARSITY

Watch the full livestream on the panel on Facebook.

Why I filed my human rights complaint against U of T

A survivor of sexual violence tells her story

Why I filed my human rights complaint against  U of T

Editor’s Note: The allegations made toward the faculty members and staff members identified in this article are unproven in court.

When I filed my human rights complaint against the University of Toronto and Trinity College, I thought I had realistic expectations. It would be exciting to push U of T to change its policies. It would be empowering to hold a press conference announcing my complaint with my colleagues from Silence is Violence, a sexual violence advocacy group on campus.

But I also knew that filing the complaint would inevitably lead to some uncomfortable interactions and might generate some unwanted attention. I wasn’t wrong. There was a man who, within the span of two minutes, commented on at least seven different posts on my Facebook timeline, then messaged me with two pictures of Winnie the Pooh and offered to give me a foot rub.

I also thought it was a given that, at the very least, the people who supported me would give me respite from whatever negativity I would face. But as I sifted through the messages and posts made by people offering their support, I noticed an unexpected trend: they did not seem most concerned about the 17 months I spent waiting for some form of justice, or the fact that my case ended with a settlement made between the university and my rapist without my knowledge or consent. Rather, they were most concerned that the first faculty member who I disclosed my story to, Trinity College’s Assistant Dean of Students, recommended I not report it to the police because he knew other survivors had had negative experiences of doing so.

I don’t mention this to condemn those people or say they have it all wrong, rather, I think this impulse demonstrates how we’re conditioned to see sexual violence: namely, as a matter first and foremost for the criminal justice system to deal with. Because of this, we see sexual violence as exceptional, as something only people who seem like criminals could do, as a horror so immense we can’t even talk about it.

Deflected responsibility

I still remember in high school when, upon entering the classroom, my English teacher — who had sexually harassed a remarkable number of the girls in my class in our two years with him — paused dramatically and told us he didn’t want to talk about the rape we had just read about in a novel because, as the father of two daughters, the subject upset him too much. I remembered this moment clearly when I first told people about my assault, puzzling through their obvious discomfort with the topic. On countless occasions, I was met with responses like ‘I’m here if you want to talk about it!’ when I thought it was clear that I was trying to do just that.

When sexual assault happens, our first impulse — if we believe it really happened at all — is to push the survivor in other directions, towards the police or towards a year-long waiting list for counselling. We believe these are the places where survivors and the experiences they carry belong.

Because of this automatic assumption that sexual violence is something for the police to deal with, I think some people following my case missed the complexity of the situation. It is hard to dispute that the criminal justice system fails most survivors; even in the 0.3 per cent of cases that do result in conviction, this comes at the end of a deeply retraumatizing process, and, in the case of Mandi Gray, can still end in the conviction being overturned.

Reporting, trusting the process

My problem with being advised against reporting to the police is that I was given no similar warning about the disappointment I would experience upon reporting to the school. In fact, I was promised that U of T takes sexual violence ‘very seriously’ when I asked if expulsion was on the table. I believed this and, at the time, I thought the Dean of Students’ advice was coming from a place of concern. He could have advised me not to go to the police because he cared, but the fact of the matter is that U of T’s sexual violence policies past and present leave no room for that kind of concern, for the empathy it takes to admit that you have failed someone.

As I went through this process, I figured, as many students still seem to do, that within U of T’s decentralized structure the problem was that some bad administrators were doing a poor job and their bosses were unaware. After all, the other faculty member who argued that my rapist had changed since the assault, and who allowed him to continue playing intramural soccer as a result, had never dealt with a sexual assault case before.

I gradually lost trust in the men handling my case, however I held out hope in Trinity College’s Dean of Students, who let me vent to her whenever my rapist violated the rule that forbid him from eating in Trinity’s dining hall, shook her head in frustration when I told her what the other faculty members had told me, and promised that she and the provost of Trinity College, at least, saw this as a problem.

In January 2016, I was told that my case would proceed to a hearing. In the following nine months, I helped the Dean of Students work on consent education programming while she told me, again shaking her head with a ‘what can you do?’ look on her face, that she hadn’t heard anything more about the timing of the hearing. Then, to my surprise, in September she brought me into her office and told me that throughout this time she and the provost had not only known what was going on but had been actively working with my rapist and his lawyers to come up with a series of confidential resolutions that would sidestep a hearing.

I walked out of her office feeling like a friend had betrayed me. That feeling stuck with me over the coming weeks, as I thought about all the ways that I had patiently waited, trusted the process, followed the rules, and tried to be understanding when I was told that ‘this is just how it is.’ Finally, it was clear to me: this system and its administrators never cared about me or any other survivor.

Systemic injustices

For me, this was a familiar feeling. It brought me back to the times throughout my education as a disabled student, when I was made to feel like I was being unreasonable for requesting accommodations for something that is not, and has never been, my fault.

And I’m not alone with this feeling: sexual assault can happen to anyone, but statistics regarding which groups are disproportionately affected echo the power dynamics that already exist on campus and in broader society. Women, trans people, and nonbinary people are more likely to experience sexual violence, as are disabled, POC, and queer students. Most people who find themselves hearing survivors’ stories know that the perpetrators are frequently popular upper-years, student politicians, dons, TAs, and even senior professors and research supervisors. Often, it’s whoever has enough structural power at this institution to know they can get away with it. No matter what the university says in its flashy new sexual violence policy, myself and many other survivors understand that U of T prioritizes reputation and money over taking care of marginalized students. Silencing survivors is just one of the ways U of T makes this clear.

U of T and policy changes

Still, if the university were too blatant in their mistreatment of survivors, they would risk more lawsuits like mine. It felt like they needed me to believe that I was in control of the process and that they had done everything they could. This calculation weaved through the promises that were made to me along the way, from the times administrators told me they had never seen sanctions so serious in a sexual assault case to the times they offered to make referrals knowing full-well that the academic accommodations available are hardly ever extensive enough.

This is a university that prides itself first and foremost on its reputation for research and academic rigour, a reputation that requires a base level of assumed safety without going far enough with support to seem lenient. Besides, what parent would send their child to a university that openly acknowledged that some of its students sexually assault their peers? It’s far easier to sweep sexual assault under the rug than to grapple with dismantling centuries-old power structures.

U of T’s new policy can’t magically fix the problem of sexual violence at this university if U of T doesn’t want it to. Sexual violence won’t end because survivors go to the sexual assault centre tucked away in Robarts rather than going to their college. Sexual violence can only end through the dismantling of the power structures that feed into it.

In the meantime, we need processes for dealing with sexual assault that are more involved and more personal — processes that actually deal with the harm of sexual assault. This university needs to grapple with the gut-wrenching realization that this is our school, perpetrators are our fellow students and colleagues, and sexual assault exists on these campuses. Sexual violence is not going away no matter how many Health and Wellness Be Safe posters are put up, no matter how many rape whistles are distributed at frosh week, and no matter how many consent education videos – as if consent needs to be taught and sexual assault is just a misunderstanding – are thrown at students.

It is not enough for the university to investigate sexual assault and half-heartedly reduce the likelihood of survivors running into their assailants. Dealing with sexual assault also means dealing with the material effects of sexual assault, from the money spent making up lost time in school or the cost of getting adequate counselling to the academic impacts of being forced to sit through a class each week with the person who sexually assaulted you. It means going beyond the supposedly neutral stance that allowed the university to take 17 months to ban my rapist from social events, Trinity buildings with some exceptions, and the classes I am enrolled in.

The complaint

That, ultimately, is why I filed a human rights complaint. After I got home from that final meeting with the Dean of Students, I looked over the hasty notes I had taken, hands shaking in anger, while she paraphrased to me the confidential resolution in my case. I went back to the copy of the student code of conduct I had been given, annotated with my first-year self’s more hopeful notes, outlining what I thought was supposed to be a policy that was flexible enough to meet the needs of survivors.

Looking back months later, that same hopeful vision of the university I once had was gone, and the thought of any other survivor encountering that policy and having the same hopefulness — only to eventually be crushed — filled me with dread. Watching the university pass a new sexual violence policy and pass it off as progress with seemingly little public skepticism, I started to worry. What if the process I had started had merely been a waste of my time? What if, after all I went through, this process had helped no one except for my rapist?

So I started researching. I spoke to others in Silence is Violence, who validated my sense that what happened was not okay. I spoke to Gray, who referred me to the Human Rights Legal Support Centre; their lawyers are now representing me. While I spent second semester quietly planning my complaint, at each step thinking only about what I had to do next, I worked with Silence is Violence on a poster campaign that went viral, sharing the stories of survivors who had been blamed and silenced like I had.

The university’s response to scrape our posters off bus shelters and lamp posts around campus instead of trying to actually acknowledge and address the problem was telling.

At the same time, the rush of messages we got after that one night of putting up posters signalled to me that survivors at this campus had long been in desperate need of this kind of acknowledgement. When I was finally able to file my human rights application, I decided to go public with my case: I did a story with the Toronto Star and held a press conference in Trinity College to set the record straight. I knew that U of T would only deal with sexual assault if there were consequences for not doing so, and I felt I owed it to every other survivor to try my best to make that happen.

If this article makes me seem pessimistic, I’m not. Don’t get me wrong, it’s hard to hear horror stories about the same administrators, counsellors, and community safety officers while maintaining hope for a better future. But at this point, in passing a new sexual assault policy after holding a single consultation for each campus, U of T is making little effort to show survivors that it cares. And students have noticed. Over the past year, grassroots activism has arisen on campus, aimed at stopping perpetrators from maintaining power in their communities.

I’ve seen too many nods of recognition from students passing SIV posters, I’ve been on the receiving end of too many whispered stories of ‘I haven’t told anyone this, but…,’ and I’ve spoken too many times with survivors dreaming up their own forms of justice to underestimate our determination to change this.

I just hope U of T is ready.

This is the first installment of The Varsity’s investigative series exploring sexual violence at the University of Toronto.

US university to sue own student newspaper

Suit attempts to prevent release of documents pertaining to sexual assault case

US university to sue own student newspaper

The University of Kentucky is launching legal action against the Kentucky Kernel, its student newspaper, in an effort to withhold details of sexual assault claims against a professor.

The university plans to appeal the Kentucky Attorney General’s request to open records pertaining to the case, which concluded in December.

An anonymous source close to the case leaked 100 pages of investigation documents to the Kentucky Kernel, detailing complaints that James Harwood, Entomology Professor, allegedly sexually assaulted two students in 2012 and 2013, while three other students testified but did not make formal claims.

According to the Kernel, Hardwood has denied the allegations of sexual assault. He officially resigned as of August 31 citing “family medical reasons” in an email to the Kernel, and indicating that he had “not been found guilty.” He did not undergo a disciplinary hearing or have his tenure revoked immediately, as was recommended by the investigator; he continued to receive his full pay and benefits until August 31.

When Harwood signed his resignation agreement on February 26, the Kernel filed a public-records request with the university; they received the settlement documents, which did not include any mention of the charges. Upon this release, the newspaper contacted the Attorney General, who ruled that the university was obligated to release all of the documents pertaining to the case.

The University of Kentucky’s President, Eli Capilouto, responded with an August 9 blog post wherein he detailed plans to sue the paper, citing the necessity to protect the privacy of the individuals involved in the case. The Kernel’s Editor-in-Chief, Marjorie Kirk, and the complainants have criticized the university’s actions.

The Harwood family will continue to receive health care benefits until December 31 or until James Harwood is employed elsewhere. Harwood will not be allowed on campus without submitting a request to the Attorney General, unless it is for health care related services for him and his family.

With files from Buzzfeed News and Kentucky Kernel.

Province orders universities to establish sexual violence policy by January 2017

Ontario passes legislation combatting sexual violence, harassment

Province orders universities to establish sexual violence policy by January 2017

On International Women’s Day, March 8, the Ontario government passed the Sexual Violence and Harassment Action Plan Act.

The legislation was first introduced in October 2015 as part of the government’s broader action plan against sexual violence. The plan also includes the It’s Never Okay campaign, which seeks to “make workplaces and campuses safer from and more responsive to sexual violence and harassment.”

By January 2017, Ontario’s colleges and universities will be required to have a policy in place addressing sexual violence. According to the legislation, policies must involve students and set out a response process for the institution. Under the new law, policies will be reviewed every three years. The reviews will also take student input into consideration.

Ellie Adekur, graduate student and organizer with Silence is Violence U of T, expressed doubts about the act.

“First, the report takes a zero-tolerance approach to any form of sexual violence on campus, but does little to address steps the university will take in the event of a complaint,” she explained, with emphasis on how the report doesn’t address issues that come with how “decentralized the [university’s] resources are.”

Second, Adekur finds that the report places emphasis on education, professional development, and consent but doesn’t thoroughly explain what “comprehensive” and “adequate education” look like.

One of the recommendations of U of T’s Advisory Committee to the President and Provost on Prevention and Response to Sexual Violence was the creation of a stand-alone policy and protocol on sexual violence.

“The ministry anticipates coming forward with regulations that will set out more detailed requirements for the policies around reporting to get feedback on the implementation of the policies,” said Linda Mackay, manager of issues and media relations for the Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities.

Of more than 100 colleges and universities in Canada, only about two dozen have stand-alone sexual assault policies. Some provinces, such as Manitoba, Nova Scotia, and most recently, British Columbia, have taken steps to establish policies of their own.

The Ontario government also released a progress report on It’s Never Okay, which states $2.2 million has been invested over three years to ensure that students are provided with information during orientation week and throughout the year about how to prevent sexual violence and harassment.

“The report won’t change the culture of silence because the culture of silence around sexual violence is the bedrock of our institution,” Adekur said. She believes that the university needs to initiate projects that privilege the voices of students, faculty, and survivors — people of colour and equity-seeking groups chief among them.

Adekur said that she would like to see an apology from the university that acknowledges the institution’s history of silence on issues of sexual violence, referring to U of T’s approach thus far.

“The University of Toronto does not want students to come forward with complaints of sexual violence on campus. The University has continuously shut down different forms of student organizing that shed light on the realities of sexual violence on campus, and has worked to co-opt movements on campus by offloading surveying work onto students, and wrapping them up in committees (very much like this one) that have no real decision-making authority at the University,” she said.

“The University can say that it is taking steps to address sexual violence through this committee, but thinking about its structure, its composition, the recommendations and the total lack of accountability is revealing in that we see the University is able to distance itself from any real responsibility to survivors,” stated Adekur.