Students unclear on sexual consent: report

Study by student group also finds majority of assaults are not reported to officials

The review includes 21 recommendations for student unions to promote safe and healthy student environments. (Photo: Jennifer Grudic)
The review includes 21 recommendations for student unions to promote safe and healthy student environments. (Photo: Jennifer Grudic)

Nova Scotia students are largely unsure of what constitutes sexual consent, a student group has found.

The findings were released today by StudentsNS, an organization representing student unions throughout Nova Scotia. The report also found that as many as 95 per cent of all sexual assaults on campus are committed by acquaintances and are not reported to campus officials or police.

Although the findings of the report may not come as a surprise to many students, StudentsNS chair Amy Brierley says it is important to keep the conversation going surrounding sexual violence.

“We definitely want to be part of positive change on campus so I think this is one of the steps that we hope we can take to help student unions have the tools to move forward,” she says.

Brierley also says more needs to be done to educate students on what actually constitutes consent and to promote “educated, enthusiastic consent.”

The report is intended to act as a guide for student unions to take the proper steps towards reducing sexualized violence on campus.

Student unions from Acadia University, Cape Breton University, the Dalhousie Faculty of Agriculture, Mount St. Vincent, St. Francis Xavier and Saint Mary’s University took part in the review.

External reviewer Martell Consulting conducted more than 80 interviews with student leaders, university staff members and health experts.

The report includes several strategies to prevent sexual assault from occurring on campus, including establishing programs to help bystanders intervene safely. It also recommends offering targeted programming for high-risk offender populations such as fraternities and student athletes.

As well, the report outlines the importance of student leadership in changing the dynamics on campus that allow for sexualized violence to occur.

Brierley says student leaders are responsible for creating safe student environments by promoting positive and healthy culture on campus.

“It’s all about student safety,” she says.

SMUSA welcomes report

In light of the controversy surrounding the frosh week chants in September, Saint Mary’s University Student Association president Gorba Bhandari says the school is working hard to ensure something like that does not happen again.

The Saint Mary's University Student Association located within the O'Donnell Hennessy Student Centre. (Photo: Jennifer Grudic)
The Saint Mary’s University Student Association located within the O’Donnell Hennessy Student Centre. (Photo: Jennifer Grudic)

He says he hopes to have recommendations by both StudentsNS and the SMU President’s Council Report in place by the time students return next fall.

“The incident that happened gave us a chance to review the practices and procedures surrounding sexual assault on our campus,” he says.


He says that he, along with other members of student leadership, have been working to find ways to raise awareness surrounding sexualized violence on campus.

“One of the things that we were already planning to do is hiring an equity officer and forming a small team for diversity on campus that will target issues such as sexual assault and over-consumption of alcohol on campus,” he said.

Bhandari says student leaders have responsibility when it comes to educating students on issues surrounding safety on campus and says the StudentsNS report “will help us as student leaders to go in the right direction.”




7 thoughts on “Students unclear on sexual consent: report

  1. The article tells us neither what the study takes sexual consent to consist in nor what it found students to be unsure about. The article gives us no reason to accept the conclusions of the study. For his part, though, SMUSA president Bhandari seems unsure what constitutes sexual consent. His comment about the rape chant incident providing “a chance to review the practices and procedures surrounding sexual assault on our campus” indicates that he thinks the chant involved lack of consent or sexual assault.

    1. Hi Mark,

      Thank you for your input!

      If you would like more information on what constitutes consent, feel free to click on the link in the second paragraph of this article. There you will find an in-depth definition on page 9 of StudentNS’s report. You will also find that “the absence of consent defines the crime of sexual assault under Canada’s Criminal Code.”

      You are, of course, free to make your own conclusions surrounding the findings in this report.

      As for Mr. Bhandari - what his comment is referring to is the way in which the chant incident presented the opportunity to start an open and active dialogue on issues surrounding sexualized assault and consent. At no time did he, nor this article state that a sexualized assault or an instance of non-consent occurred during the chant incident.

      Jennifer Grudic

      1. Jennifer, your article says that the report finds that students are “largely unsure what constitutes sexual consent.” That claim seems incredible. Surely university students, and everyone else, knows what it is to consent to something or to withhold consent, and surely we’re all pretty good at determining whether we do or don’t have someone’s consent for what we intend to do. Given that the claim that students don’t understand the concept of consent is incredible, we readers should be told right in the article what the report takes consent to consist in.

        1. Yes, in hindsight it would have been beneficial to my readers to elaborate on exactly what the report constitutes as consent.

          The assumption that “surely we’re all pretty good at determining whether we do or don’t have someone’s consent for what we intend to do” is critical in allowing many assaults to occur. As stated in the report, “the culture of uneducated sexual activity has led to students not understanding particular incidents as sexual assault.” Contributing factors such as the over-consumption of alcohol, social power dynamics as well as “acquaintance rape” have been found the blur the lines surrounding this issue.

          Education and awareness surrounding consent are certainly key in reducing the number of sexualized assaults that occur on university campuses.

          Thanks again!

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