The issue of sexual assault on Canadian university campuses has recently become a headliner in the media and that has opened up discussion on the topic. University-age women are within the age bracket of victims who will most often experience sexual assault. One theory suggests that post-secondary institutions are a setting in which, “there are male students who are motivated to assault women sexually, available female targets are present, and capable guardians willing to intervene are absent”1, making the campus environment a likely scene for sexual assault to occur. The call has been made for the universities to be these “capable guardians” of the students attending their institutions. Yet, as more and more scandals and sexual assaults make the news, so do the criticisms of Canadian universities.
What seems to be the main concern of critics of the relationship between campus sexual assault and the universities is that these institutions lack policies for dealing with this complex problem. While the United States has put in place federal legislation that demands their universities to have procedures in place to address campus sexual assault and requires the universities to publish them, Canada has not made sexual assault policies mandatory for universities. This means that few policies are made and even fewer are available to the public.
The Toronto non-profit organization METRAC (Metropolitan Action Committee on Violence Against Women and Children) has published a paper on sexual assault policies on campuses that states the importance for post-secondary institutions to have appropriate policies in place. They argue “[e]ffective, well-communicated policies help create an environment where everyone on campus knows that sexual violence is unacceptable, victims receive the services they need, and perpetrators are held accountable’”2. METRAC conducted a “snapshot” review of 15 post-secondary institutions from various Canadian provinces. They discovered that when policies do exist, they often better outline the rights of the responder to the complaint than the complainant themselves. The victims’ rights are not given the consideration that they deserve.
Another criticism of the universities is that keeping track of what happens on their campuses is poorly executed. For example, the University of British Columbia was plagued by a string of sexual assaults on campus in 2013. When CBC news covered the assaults, the Vice President of students, Louise Cowin was asked what action the university was taking. She said that “Safety for the Vancouver Campus is now our number one priority and we are mobilizing all necessary resources”3 . In another article by CBC in 2015, UBC was criticized for having poorly documented reports of sexual assault and publishing drastically low numbers compared to what was reported by the RCMP detachment on the campus. Cowin was again interviewed, but this time said that the data from the RCMP had never been looked at, which is seems to contradict her previous committments. Without having a clear picture of what is occurring on campuses, it makes it much more difficult to address this serious crime.
There has been a surge of response from universities as a result of media attention and increasing awareness of the problem. Some are now looking to create and improve policies, hiring on people to deal specifically with campus sexual assault, and holding events to educate their students.
We are moving in a positive direction, but we are yet where we want to be. Clearly, sexual assault policies should be mandatory, with an emphasis on accurate tracking. More academic research should take place in order to gain insight into what Canada needs to do to prevent sexual assault and to aid the victims. With this information we can begin to develop the necessary strategies and hopefully improve our society as a whole.
1 Shahid Alvi, Martin D. Schwartz, Walter S. DeKeseredy, David Tait. “Male Peer Support and a Feminist Routine Activities Theory: Understanding Sexual Assault on the Collage Campus”. Justice Quarterly 18:3 (2001): 628
2 Andrea Gunraj et al., “Sexual Assault Policies on Campus: A Discussion Paper,” METRAC (2014): 6
3 CBC News.”6 sex assaults on UBC campus appear connected: RMCP”. CBC News, October 30, 2013. http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/british-columbia/6-sex-assaults-on-ubc-campus-appear-connected-rcmp-1.2286882
Sources+Further Reading Material:
Alvi, Shahid, Martin D. Schwartz, Walter S. DeKeseredy, David Tait. “Male Peer Support and a Feminist Routine Activities Theory: Understanding Sexual Assault on the Collage Campus”. Justice Quarterly 18:3 (2001): 623-649.
Black, Devon. “Too Few Canadian Schools Prepared to Deal with Sexual Assaults”. iPolitics, February 13, 2015. http://thetyee.ca/Opinion/2015/02/13/Canadian-Schools-Sexual-Assaults/
Browne, Rachel. “Why don’t Canadian universities want to talk about sexual assault?”. Maclean’s, October 30, 2014. http://www.macleans.ca/education/unirankings/why-dont-canadian-universities-want-to-talk-about-sexual-assault/
CBC News.”6 sex assaults on UBC campus appear connected: RMCP”. CBC News, October 30, 2013. http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/british-columbia/6-sex-assaults-on-ubc-campus-appear-connected-rcmp-1.2286882
DeKeseredy, Walter S., Martin D. Schwartz, Karen Tait. “Sexual Assault and Stranger Agression on a Canadian University Campus”. Sex Roles 28, no. 5/6 (1993): 263-277.
Gunraj, Andrea, et al., “Sexual Assault Policies on Campus: A Discussion Paper,” METRAC (2014): 1-22 http://www.metrac.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/11/final.formatted.campus.discussion.paper_.26sept14.pdf
Sawa, Timothy, Lori Ward. “Sex assault reporting on Canadian campuses worryingly low, says experts”. CBC News, February 9, 2015.http://www.cbc.ca/m/news/canada/sex-assault-reporting-on-canadiancampuses-suspiciously-low-say-experts-1.2948321
Sawa, Timothy, Lori Ward. “UBC sex assault reports out of sync with police statistics”. CBC News, February 10, 2015.http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/ubc-sex-assault-reports-out-of-sync-with-police-statistics-1.2950264