Western's New Policy on Gender-Based & Sexual Violence
As part of Western’s commitment to providing and maintaining an environment in which sexual violence is not tolerated the university has reviewed and updated its Policy on Sexual Violence. The new policy will come into effect as of May 1, 2020.
We have already said that to do more would require really listening to our students’ concerns and advice on how to reduce violence and support survivors. We conducted a consultative review process where we sought input and feedback from the community to ensure that this policy reflects the needs of our campus. This policy will be put into practice in May to inform how the university responds to incidents of Sexual Violence so we can continue to foster a campus culture where all students can thrive.
*Please note, you can read the current Policy on Sexual Violence (in effect until April 30, 2020) here.
In January 2017 Western University implemented its Sexual Violence Policy as required under the Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities Act (the “MTCU Act”). The MTCU Act also mandated that the University review its Sexual Violence Policy every three years. On March 19, 2019, the Ontario Government released a summary report of the 2018 Student Voices on Sexual Violence Survey and directed every university and publicly assisted college to review their sexual violence policies by September, 2019. As many faculty and students would be away during the summer months, the University elected to delay this review until September 2019 in order to ensure full faculty and student participation in the review process. The University advised the Ontario Government of this delay and agreed to have a review completed by its November Board meeting. A report was also created to share with the Board of Governors.
The Review Process
In September 2019, the Review Committee was established and its membership included the USC VicePresident, SOGS Vice-President (Advocacy), the Associate Vice-President (Student Experience), the Gender-Based Violence & Survivor Support Case Manager, the Director of Equity & Human Rights Services, the Associate-Vice President (Housing and Ancillary Services), and University Legal Counsel.
The Review Committee reviewed the current policy and made the recommendations on amendments.
Community consultation occurred through:
- An online general survey sent to faculty, staff and students, questions were asked about the strength of the current policy; its weaknesses; what should occur if a disclosure of Sexual Violence is made; and an open-ended question to add additional thoughts. Over 400 responses were received which provided guidance on the strengths and weaknesses of the current policy and processes.
- Seventeen (17) hours of focus groups held to solicit direct feedback from the community, both before and after the new draft policy was released.
- A second survey was sent to the community soliciting feedback on the draft policy which asked specific questions about the strength of the changes implemented in the draft policy; its weaknesses or what else needs to be included; and an open-ended question to add additional thoughts. Over 100 responses were received from this second survey, noting the improvements being made in the draft policy while suggesting further changes.
Feedback & Policy Change Summary
In summary, the data collected from the two surveys and a series of focus groups provided the following advice and direction:
- Our current process is too complicated and needs to be streamlined;
- The policy and particularly the process need to be more accessible in language and design;
- There needs to be more consistency with how disclosures of sexual violence are handled on campus, connecting students to supports more consistently;
- We need to increase education on sexual violence on campus with a focus on moving upstream to better address culture;
- We need to increase communication about the policy and procedures;
- We need to include language of gender-based as well as sexual violence;
- Students, staff, and faculty are eager for more opportunities to provide ongoing feedback on how the policy is working.
Key changes in the new policy include:
- Creating two streams for dealing with complaints of gender-based and sexual violence, with one stream for student respondents, and one for employee respondents:
- the procedure for student respondents is now stated in the policy rather redirecting to the Code of Student Conduct; and
- the procedure for employee respondents will be as set out in the Harassment Policy, which is consistent with the current process.
- Including clearer processes for handling a disclosure, and connecting a survivor with support, by centralizing the reporting of all disclosures of gender-based sexual violence to the Gender-Based Violence & Survivor Support Case Manager;
- Detailing information on how a disclosure and complaint are handled;
- Clarifying that for student respondents, the AVP Student Experience can investigate a matter or retain an external investigator to investigate (this was already current practice and is consistent with the Harassment Policy process);
- Highlighting the option of informal resolution of complaints against student respondents;
- Identifying examples of accommodations and interim measures in responding to disclosures and complaints;
- Providing examples of support to both survivors and respondents to a formal complaint;
- Clarifying that a complainant or a witness would not face repercussions when seeking support if they disclosed that they had consumed alcohol or illegal drugs in relation to the incident of gender-based violence;
- Establishing an appeal process with defined timelines;
- Allowing both the complainant and the respondent to initiate an appeal;
- Clarifying that a complaint under this policy would preclude a complaint under the Code or Harassment Policy or the Code of Student Conduct (as it relates to student respondents); and
- Increasing focus on education and prevention.