It's Never Okay (Part 2): Colleges and Universities
This article is part of a series on the changes brought in by the Ontario government's Sexual Violence and Harassment Action Plan Act (aka Bill 132). Learn about the other new protections and resources created by this important new legislation: Overview - It's Never Okay.
The problem of sexual violence on the campuses of our universities and colleges is not new, but many institutions have been criticized for failing to adequately address it. Media reports of victim-blaming and shaming, inadequate investigations, unclear procedures and failures to take appropriate disciplinary action are not uncommon. A recent article in Vice details the problem well, describing how students who experience rape and sexual violence on campus feel let down by their schools.
Many schools do offer excellent services and supports to students who experience sexual violence, but students may not be aware of their options and are often unsure how the school will respond if an incident of sexual violence is reported.
Ontario's new Sexual Violence and Harassment Action Plan Act (sometimes called Bill 132) attempts to address this problem by requiring that all colleges, universities and private career colleges take steps to "appropriately accommodate the needs of students who are affected by sexual violence" and to create comprehensive policies that address the problem of student sexual violence. New regulations set out specific requirements for the policies that schools must implement. Schools must ensure that their policies:
The new changes mandate that every institution have a comprehensive sexual violence policy.
- provide information about the supports and services available to students who are affected by sexual violence (both those provided by the school, and those provided in the broader community)
- provide information to students who are affected by sexual violence about how the school will accommodate their needs
- inform students that they are entitled to access the supports and accommodations provided regardless of whether they launch a formal complaint
- describe the school's procedures for responding to reports and complaints of incidents of sexual violence, including clearly explaining:
- how to make a report or complaint
- what measures may be implemented to protect a complainant from retaliation
- how the school decides whether or not to investigate a complaint
- that students can't be forced to make complaints or participate in the investigation process
- the investigation and decision-making process (including identifying the specific participants in the process)
- the rights of the student to have representation throughout the process
- what interim measures might be implemented during an investigation
- what final measures might be imposed after an investigation or complaint has concluded
- the measures taken to protect the confidentiality of personal information of the individuals involved; and
- the process to appeal a decision
While the regulations set out the form the policies should take and specify the type of content that should be included, filling in the specifics is left largely up to individual schools. To ensure the policies end up being reflective of the needs of students, rather than top-down measures imposed by the potentially out-of-touch administration, the new law requires schools to "ensure that student input is considered" in the initial development of the policy. Schools must establish a process, in consultation with student governments, for obtaining input from a "diverse selection of students" regarding the policy. Once set, policies must be reviewed every 3 years, including further student consultation.
Finally, the new law creates new reporting requirements for schools to provide statistical information about incidents of sexual violence to the government to help them evaluate the success of the action plan, and identify trends, problems and opportunities relating to stopping sexual violence.
The new requirements relating to sexual violence policies at colleges and universities will come into force on January 1, 2017.
BURLINGTON SEXUAL ASSAULT LAWYERS
The lawyers at Martin & Hillyer Associates advise and represent survivors of sexual assault and abuse in civil litigation claims. You can find out more information about civil sexual assault claims and the services we provide here.
Our lawyers offer free in-person or telephone consultations with individuals who are looking for information about their legal options. Our consultations take place in a supportive, judgment-free and entirely confidential environment. If you would like to speak with one of our lawyers or find out more about our consultation process, please visit our online consultation page, or give us a call.
About the Author
Kennedy is a Burlington lawyer who practises plaintiff civil litigation with the personal injury lawyers at Martin & Hillyer Associates. His focus is on advising and representing people in insurance disputes, personal injury litigation and civil sexual assault claims.