Ontario colleges draft new sexual assault policy

All Ontario colleges, including Durham, are in the late stages of drafting a stand-alone sexual assault policy that aims at unifying the schools’ approach to dealing with sexual violence.

DC, like many other post-secondary schools in Canada, referred to a general code of conduct to handle sexual assault in the past. This change comes at the heels of a three-month investigation led by the Toronto Star that criticized higher learning institutions for lacking a formal policy to adequately address the issue.

Victims of the crime are unlikely to report incidences without a formal sexual assault policy in place at their school, according to a report published in October by Metrac, a Toronto-based agency specializing in violence against women and youth. The research is based on 15 post-secondary schools in Canada, four of which are in Ontario.

Tom Lynch, director of campus safety for DC and UOIT, and a provincially-accredited sexual assault investigator with 30 years experience on the Toronto police force, said the college’s current policy is disciplinary-based while the new policy focuses on support for victims.

“Quite often I think we as a society assume, and not necessarily correctly, that an individual who was the survivor of sexual assault stands up and screams ‘I’ve just been sexually assaulted’ and runs to our security desk or calls 9-1-1,” Lynch said.

Unfortunately, he said, cases of sexual assault don’t often work that way. In fact, it’s estimated only about one in 10 victims may come forward.

“It’s heinous. It’s disgusting, and there’s no place for it anywhere in society,” Lynch said. “Especially here on our campus.”

The 20-plus pages of the new policy will include clearer outlines of what constitutes sexual assault since the crime has more nuances than most, as well as procedures that will make navigating resources on campus and in the community simpler for victims, Lynch explained.

“We want to have a policy here on campus that allows the survivor to step into the beginnings of their healing, and at the pace they want with the decisions they want,” he said.

Guidelines for supporting victims and reporting sexual assaults will be included, and the school’s responsibility towards handling reported cases will also be given more clarity.

Less than 10 per cent of colleges and universities across Canada have a distinct policy to address sexual assault. None of which are Ontario colleges, according to the three-month media investigation late last year.

These findings sparked debate within the Council of Ontario Universities and Colleges Ontario, on whether post-secondary schools need a streamlined provincial-wide policy to specifically tackle sexual assault.

Colleges Ontario, an advocacy organization that represents 24 colleges across the province, including Durham College, announced Feb. 1 there would be such a policy in two months time.

The committee of presidents made the decision to develop the policy as a system, Durham College President Don Lovisa explained. The committee put together a group of experts, Lynch included, from different organizations across the province to set the framework.

“Students can go to any of our institutions and know that they have these policies in place,” Lovisa said. “They’ll be very open policies… We (DC) did have policies on sexual assault and we did have policies on harassment, but they weren’t as obvious as this one will be.”

Lovisa said Colleges Ontario is consulting with provincial student groups, as well as faculty and support unions. On campus, the policy will be taken to the Student Association, academic council representatives, and other stakeholders to examine and share input.

The challenge is also ensuring the new policy still aligns with current policies in place, he said.

The next Board of Governors meeting is Feb. 13. Lovisa said he hopes the college will have an approved document, and be ready to instate it by the end of this month. The goal for all Ontario colleges is to have the policy implemented by March 31.

“We don’t have the number of incidents like you hear at the larger schools,” Lovisa said, adding, “That doesn’t mean that it doesn’t happen.”

In the past three years since Lynch has been director of campus safety, three sexual assault cases at Durham College have been brought forth, and four reports from UOIT.

Lynch said there are no trends in the reported cases, which includes where and when the incidents occurred, what type of assault was committed, and the gender of individuals who reported them. However, he said women have reported the majority.

There’s been no announcement from the Council of Ontario Universities similar to College Ontario’s declaration of a provincewide policy.