In the face of the recently instated Sexual Violence Policy Act, the University of Toronto has released its new Sexual Violence Policy draft. Key changes to the way assault and harassment have been handled in the past include the introduction of the Sexual Violence and Prevention Centre, which will serve as a centralized and standardized system for reporting, triage, and support.
It appears the University has made an effort to be transparent about its new policies. The draft is easy to follow with minimal legal jargon to wade through. The full document can be found through the Provost’s website.
Rules regarding whose jurisdiction off-campus assaults fall under have historically been debated, often leaving them unreported and unresolved. Now, if a member of the University of Toronto community (that is to say student, staff, or employee) has been the victim of lewd messages or a blitz of harassing comments by another member of the community, the incident will fall under the sexual violence policy, with corresponding support and retributions.
Furthermore, there will be no tolerance for any form of social media attack or criticism against someone who has launched a report, with sanctioning being among the consequences.
The policy makes clear distinction that Disclosure and Reporting are entirely different, and do not necessarily coincide with each other. While they are both facilitated by the Centre, “Disclosure is the sharing of information by an individual with a Member of the University Community regarding an Incident of Sexual Violence experienced by that individual”. There is to be no pressure to file a report against an assailant. As the report outlines, the priority is support, counselling and accommodation for the victim.
On the other hand, the draft defines Reporting as “the sharing of information by an individual with a designated Member of the University Community regarding an Incident of Sexual Violence experienced by that individual, with the intention of initiating one of the processes set out in this Policy, which could result in a disciplinary action being taken against the Member of the University Community alleged to have committed Sexual Violence”. If a Report is filed, the Centre will take every measure to ensure minimal requirement for verbal repetition of the incident, minimizing the rehashing of trauma, which can be very taxing for those who have been assaulted.
A heavy emphasis has been put on confidentially. As reflected in the draft’s repeated mentions of a “reminder as to the ‘Confidentiality and Privacy’ provisions of the Policy”, risk of information reaching those who are not concerned in the situation significantly minimized. As the draft states: “The University will treat Disclosure and Reporting of an Incident of Sexual Violence in a confidential manner and in accordance with the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act”. Essentially, this means, provided that withholding information does not pose conceivable danger, whoever has been confided in is not permitted to share the details of what they have been told. The policy states that though a member of the University community may consult with the Centre regarding a situation that has been disclosed to them, they are forbidden from revealing any personal details unless authorised by the person who has confided in them. Similarly, counsellors at the Centre are to keep all information private.
In her article for Time entitled “Why Victims of Rape in College Don’t Report to the Police”, Eliza Gray cites that victims “know that reporting rape comes with a social risk, especially when the perpetrator is someone they know”. She refers to a study done in 2007, in which 42% of the “physically forced” victims who did not report the incident to the police said it was because they “did not want anyone to know”. The policy’s heavy emphasis on confidentiality means that now people can ask for help without the fear of unwanted information getting out—unless of course the implications of the information would indicate a risk to themselves or others.
The policy is to be reviewed every three years in order to adapt and better attend to the needs of the community. Ideally, it is the hope that nobody will find themselves in a situation where these services are required. Nevertheless, it is encouraging and important that the University has made some tremendous steps forward in the ways it plans to deal with sexual violence, both on and off-campus.