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Students are seen on the University of Victoria campus in Victoria, B.C., on Sept. 6, 2013. (Chad Hipolito for The Globe and Mail)
Students are seen on the University of Victoria campus in Victoria, B.C., on Sept. 6, 2013. (Chad Hipolito for The Globe and Mail)

UVic report recommends prevention program for sexualized violence Add to ...

A University of Victoria group has recommended the university hire a co-ordinator to run an education and prevention program for sexualized violence on campus as part of a “survivor-centric” approach to tackling the problem.

The recommendation is included in an interim report released Wednesday by the university’s Working Group on Sexualized Violence Programs and Policy Development and comes as campuses across the country are dealing with issues related to sexual assault and consent.

Those issues have been pushed into the spotlight in recent years by concerns ranging from the time it takes universities to investigate complaints and the support provided to victims of sexual assaults.

“There are educational pieces happening all over campus, but they’re not co-ordinated,” said working group chair Dr. Annalee Lepp, an associate professor at UVic.

“We want to make sure that there is consistent messaging, but also that messages are kind of tailored to different audiences on campus.”

In May, the B.C. government passed legislation that requires every public postsecondary institution to develop a sexual-misconduct policy.

The University of Victoria’s education and prevention initiative is planned as a three-stage process that would include arrival, orientation and ongoing education.

The interim report also includes recommendations related to support for survivors and investigation and adjudication of complaints.

The school set up its 21-person working group in April. Over the past few months, the group has reviewed sexual-misconduct policies of other schools and held various meetings and consultation sessions.

As part of that work, the group looked at what might prevent people who had been assaulted or harassed from reporting such incidents of sexualized violence to authorities.

Based on consultation to date, some barriers “specific to the university context” include “a graduate student whose relationship with their supervisor is entangled with their research grant or scholarship funding” and “an undergraduate student who does not want their parents to be notified or to be moved from their living situation,” the report said.

The working group also heard that some campus members didn’t know where to make a report of sexualized violence, or where to get the support they need, or were worried that the reporting process would take too long.

“One student-advocacy group identified the length of the formal investigation process as a significant barrier to reporting,” the report said.

“In their estimation, the time and energy required to move through the process may be overwhelming for students when added to regular classes, paid work, and other commitments.”

In crafting its new policy, the working group has had to navigate between conflicting demands.

“There’s this huge tension between being survivor-focused and being committed to a fair and impartial adjudication-investigation process,” Dr. Lepp said.

The working group wants to develop a policy that will make it as easy and “seamless” as possible for people to report alleged incidents of sexualized violence while also ensuring that people accused of wrongdoing are treated fairly.

“Transparency is a huge piece in this, in both areas,” she said.

B.C.’s Sexual Violence and Misconduct Policy Act lists sexual assault, sexual harassment and voyeurism as examples of sexual misconduct and was modelled after similar Ontario legislation. Previously, B.C. postsecondary institutions were not required to have policies for sexual misconduct.

UVic plans to release a draft policy in January to be followed by final approval in May.

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UVic Sex Assault Report

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