Supporting victims of campus sexual assault: are institutions doing enough?

January 7, 2015

There has been a lot of media attention given recently to the responses of postsecondary institutions to campus sexual assaults, and the existence, or lack thereof, of dedicated policies to handle these cases. An investigative report by the Toronto Star recently discovered that out of more than 100 institutions across Canada contacted by the Star, only 9 had a dedicated sexual assault policy in place. Some institutions do have clauses or sections of larger policies that mention harassment or sexual violence, but many victims and advocates have suggested that these approaches are ineffective and are not always clearly available to victims. In response to the Star’s article, the Council of Ontario Universities (COU) and Colleges Ontario have launched reviews of existing policies and practices at member institutions. In addition, the Presidents of Ontario’s publicly funded universities have unanimously agreed to initiatives designed to prevent sexual violence on campus. 

What do the students think?

Graph: Do you think your institution is doing enough to support victims of sexual assault on campus?

We recently asked our StudentVu panel whether they thought their institution was doing enough to support victims of sexual assault on campus. Of the almost 350 students that responded, only 25% said that they believed their institution was supporting assault victims; however, the majority (53%) of respondents said that they weren’t sure whether their institution was doing enough or not.

This raises the possibility that even if institutions do have policies in place and are doing a good job of supporting victims, they may not be communicating to students that the policies and procedures exist. A recent study by METRAC into how universities handle sexual assaults found that a lack of a clear policy prevented victims from coming forward. A guide for colleges and universities released in 2013 by the Ontario Women’s Directorate suggests having a comprehensive, well-communicated policy helps create “an environment where everyone on campus knows that sexual violence is unacceptable, victims receive the services they need, and perpetrators are held accountable.”

So, the bottom-line for colleges and institutions that want to do all they can to support victims of campus sexual violence? Develop a dedicated sexual assault policy and make sure you clearly communicate its existence to students.

Interested in hearing what students think about other issues they face? Ask our StudentVu panel. Get in touch with us today to find out how.