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Province helps student sexual assault victims

Ontario colleges and universities can no longer ask sexual assault victims about their past sexual history when investigating student complaints of sexual violence. A student leader calls the existing complaints process “traumatic and punitive” for victims. “We’re hopeful that this amendment is a step towards safer, more compassionate responses to gender-based violence,” said Julia Pereira, president of Ontario Undergraduate Student Alliance, during an online provincial government announcement Wednesday morning. OUSA represents about 150,000 students at eight universities including Brock, Laurentian, Wilfrid Laurier and Western. Post-secondary institutions will also be expected to review related policies “to ensure that they adequately address the seriousness of sexual violence on campuses,” said Minister of Colleges and Universities Ross Romano. Colleges and universities will be expected to report annually the number of sexual assaults reported, and supports offered to survivors, to boards of governors. “Students on campus were concerened that the institutional policies, specifically the prevention and education programs and the training initiatives, did not meet the needs of students and survivors,” said Romano, MPP for Sault Ste. Marie. “You would expect as a student and certainly as a parent that sending your children to post-secondary (schools) that they’re going to be able to learn in a safe and respectful learning environment.” Victims will also not be asked if they violated a school’s drug or alcohol policies. “Too often women wrestle with the decision to report a sexual assault, that the investigative and legal processes can prove to be as traumatic as the assault itself,” said Jill Dunlop, associate minister of children and women’s issues. “I welcome these proposed regulations that will keep the investigative focus on the assault itself and not irrelevant aspects of the complainant’s history or sexual history.” Dunlop, a mother of three daughters who are all post-secondary students, said there will “zero tolerance for blaming the victim.” Pereira calls gender-based violence “a crisis” on Ontario campuses. More than 160,000 students participated in the provincial government’s Student Voices on Sexual Violence Survey in 2018. About two-thirds of respondents reported sexual harassment with about 25 per cent saying they experienced stalking and non-consensual sexual experiences, said Pereira. Nearly 25 per cent were dissatisifed with how their college or university responded to complaints. “We know that there’s still more that should be done to strengthen these policies, but this is a positive first step,” said Pereira of the government’s action. The college views the changes announced this morning as a reflection of best practice and already takes this approach to our investigations,�said Rick Webb, director of human resources and communications at Sault College, in an email. 的n order to further encourage reporting, we will review the current policy with our task force and determine where best to more clearly reflect these in the policy. Once that is complete, the policy will be shared with our students and staff as is our current practice.” Algoma University “has consistently taken a proactive approach” to sexual violence, said director of student success and well-being Karen Hudson in an email. “The information shared this morning reinforces the work plans that are currently in place,” she said. The university’s sexual assault policy is posted online at https://www.algomau.ca/students/campus-safety/sexual-violence/ Algoma’s sexual violence task force reviews the document annually. That assessment is being done now. The group meets Monday. Changes go to the board of governors for approval. “Updated messaging will be shared with our internal community,” said Hudson. Ron Common, president of Sault College, and Donna Rogers, vice-president, academic and research at Algoma University, attended the government announcement. Deadline for public comment about the government’s proposed amendments under the Private Career Colleges Act is March 15. More information is available at https://www.ontariocanada.com/registry/view.do?postingId=36007&language=en btkelly@postmedia.com On Twitter: @Saultreporter

6 hours ago Local News

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