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More options for sexual assault survivors

Jessica Thompson | Interrobang | News | September 14th, 2015

Pro-rape chants at St. Mary’s University in Halifax, misogynistic Facebook posts by a group of dentistry students at Dalhousie University and a growing epidemic of violence against women on Canadian campuses have made sexual assaults a common topic of discussion.

Canadians know of the stories, know some of the women or men affected, but what a lot of Canadians do not know is what was set in place after the aforementioned events when campuses all over Canada began to grow more aware of the growing trend of sexual assaults.

One in four women will be sexually assaulted and four out of five female undergraduates at Canadian universities have been victims of violence in a dating relationship according to the Silence Isn’t Consent website.

Finally the stigma of being a sexual assault victim is disappearing. The dialogue surrounding sexual assaults and the way they should be handled is beginning to increase.

A sexual violence policy was established following the Dalhousie dentistry school scandal by Colleges Ontario.

“We brought in student groups, experts from student services, counseling, Ontario Coalition of Rape Crisis Centres, VPs, academics and people from the security sector,” said Linda Franklin, president and CEO of Colleges Ontario. “That was how we developed the sexual violence policy.”

Officially implemented this past March, the stand-alone policy will be changing how Ontario colleges deal with sexual assaults this year and for years to come.

“The colleges conducted their own campus consultations and personalized the policy for their own campuses,” Franklin said.

For Fanshawe, the policy change means a new position.

“Leah Marshall’s position as the sexual violence prevention advisor is to make sure that students have a ‘go to’ person to get more information about resources within the college or within the community,” said Suzanne Book senior manager of counseling and accessibility services at Fanshawe.

“The new position is part of the initiative and the rest of it is around raising awareness and education because people may not know what their options are,” Book said.

The policy is located on Fanshawe’s website and is an 18-page breakdown of definitions, what the actual act of sexual assault is and the response protocol.

“It sets out our policy and response protocol to sexual violence and ensures that those who experience sexual violence are believed, their rights respected and that the college has a process of investigation that protects the rights of individuals,” the sexual violence and sexual assault policy states.

According to Book, the policy is crucial to ensuring that students are aware of what the campus provides and different safety programs that are in place.

And for sexual assault victims, like a woman who wishes to remain unnamed, it is to ensure that survivors have a place to go and someone to listen to their story.

“It can work as long as the person in the position has their heart in it, they are passionate about it, they know someone who has gone through it, they’ve been through it, or they actually just want to make a change, to comfort people and to help the victims,” she said.

Marshall’s position has one main goal: to educate the survivors coming forward on exactly what their options are and what each option will entail.

“To help educate students, we are going to be running approximately two initiatives a month related to sexual [violence] prevention,” Marshall said.

And the first event this Sept. is going to be a “Draw the Line” booth on Sept. 23 in Forwell hallway.

Another goal of Marshall’s is to help define exactly what the definition of consent is.

Over 13 per cent of women said that when they were drunk or high, a man attempted unwanted sex. Without consent, you can serve prison time for up to 10 years according to the Silence Isn’t Consent website.

An even more startling statistic is that many men think that certain types of advances are acceptable even without consent.

In a 1996 statistic in the Dangerous Domains: VAW in Canada, one in five male students agreed that forced sex is acceptable if someone spends money on a date, is stoned or drunk, or has been dating someone for a long time.

“We all have to be accountable and know what consent is,” Marshall said. “It’s not just the responsibility of the individual that has experienced it, it is the responsibility of the person that is possibly perpetrating the violence.”

In the next year, Book, Marshall and Franklin have the same thoughts as to how to policy is going to be absorbed into the campuses.

“I think it is entirely possible that reporting will go up, so it could look like there are more sexual assaults happening, when in fact what is really happening is that survivors are coming forward more,” Franklin said.

As of right now only six per cent of sexual assaults are reported to police according to the Women Against Violence Against Women’s website.

Though, there is one main goal of the policy on Ontario college campuses.

“The goal of the policy provincially,” Book said, “is that the victim has more say in what happens and be able to control the process.”

Those who wish to contact Marshall can reach her at 519-452-4430 ext. 4456. Those who are looking for help on campus can go to the counseling and accessibility services located at F2010.
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