Sexual assault services include counselling, class accommodations

Universities across Canada reviewing internal policies

Universities have their own procedures for dealing with allegations of sexual assault. Photo: Elizabeth Whitten

When a student is sexually assaulted, they may turn to the police for help, but they may want support from their university as well. Dalhousie University and the University of King’s College have a system in place to help students. They can refer students to support groups and make accommodations for them on campus.

However, some universities are reviewing the adequacy of their policies.

Ontario universities took action this week to review their internal procedures for dealing with sexual assault. The Council of Ontario Universities will be examining how they respond and support students.

The move followed a Toronto Star investigation that found only four universities in Ontario have created a special policy to deal with sexual violence.

Universities lack policies to handle sexual assault

There has been a widespread discussion regarding sexual assault on Canadian campuses. With last year’s rape chant at Saint Mary’s University, its football team’s racist and sexist twitter posts, and numerous universities in the U.S. being investigated for how they’ve handled sexual assaults, it’s become an issue that university administrators are now dealing with.

The role of universities

Survivors who are students have some options even if they don’t chose to go to the police. Some universities have their own internal mechanisms for dealing with sexual assaults.

Janet Bryson, a senior communications advisor working for Dalhousie University’s Office of Human Rights, says the university has its Sexual Harassment Policy and Code of Student Conduct as guidelines for dealing with sexual assault.

Bryson says Dalhousie has a variety of counselling, support and services for students dealing with the aftermath of sexual assault.

She also says that when students go through the informal process there are a number of accommodations that can be made for them. For example, the university can alter class schedules and get both parties to agree on dining hall hours so they don’t run into each other.

She wouldn’t disclose the number of students who use this procedure because “the office promises confidentiality whenever possible and feel that any public disclosures of numbers may raise concerns among those coming forward,” she said in an email.

Going through the process

Students may choose to go through the university’s process simultaneously while they go through the courts. Sexual assault cases can take years and a university’s process offers some immediate relief.

However, it’s not about determining guilt. The process offered by universities isn’t a criminal proceeding. As well, the burden is on the person who comes forward to prove the allegations. The designated investigator will decide if there is enough evidence for anything to be done.

The Provincial Court is where some sexual assault cases are handled. Photo: Kashmala Fida

Sexual assault in Nova Scotia

“Nova Scotia has the highest rate of sexual assaults per capita in Canada and some of the lowest reporting, charge, conviction and sentencing rates,” Jackie Stevens, executive director of Avalon Sexual Assault Centre, writes in an email.

The statistics when it comes to sexual assault can be disheartening. The rate of reporting is extremely low. A 2009 study found that in cases in Nova Scotia that did go to the police, only 30 per cent ever had charges laid. Sexual assault cases also have a higher rate of acquittal when they do get to court.

“Campus sexual assault and other forms of violence like stalking and intimate partner abuse also have high incidences of not reporting,” Steven states.

Universities have the power to make accommodations

Kim Kierans, the University of King’s College’s equity officer, is guided by the institution’s Yellow Book, which details the student code of conduct and various response measures to complaints.

Kierans, who is also the university’s vice-president, explains that the equity officer is there as a neutral position to mediate between people.

In the past, she’s handled cases of sexual harassment but believes that mostly it’s a matter of education and telling the offender that their behaviour is inappropriate.

When it comes to sexual assault,  Kierans says, “All I can do is advise the person to see, to go to the police and pursue that,” as well as use the other services King’s shares with Dalhousie.

Keirans says that while she has been the equity officer, no one has ever gone to the police. There was a case a few years ago that she felt could have, but the student decided not to press charges because she felt it would be traumatic and it could drag out “for years.” The student was directed toward the Avalon Sexual Assault Centre. Kierans and the student then worked out a schedule so she wouldn’t run into her alleged rapist while finishing their studies at King’s.The accused also agreed to the adjustments.

One of the adjustments included an compromise on when the other person would be at the King’s student bar. Kierans had them sign an agreement to avoid having them to cross paths.

She says every case that’s come before her has been resolved informally.

Kierans does direct students to South House, the sexual and gender justice centre in Halifax. The outreach co-ordinator, Jude Ashburn, says survivors come to them because they offer a safe, non-judgmental place for survivors.

“It’s also a space that has ‘I believe you’ plastered on the wall and survivors working here,” Ashburn says.

Dal student in court

According to the Dalhousie Code of Student Conduct, students aren’t protected from legal action. They are adults in a university setting and have to face the consequences of their actions.

One Dalhousie student is currently starting a journey through the court system.

Charles Edward John Barrons has been charged with break and enter, damage to property, assault, uttering threats and sexual assault. The incident took place on Sept. 12, 2014.