Sexual assault policy meetings see low attendance

TRU has until May 2017 to implement its sexual assault policy

_dsc0300With only seven months to go before TRU must have a sexual assault policy in place, the clock is ticking. TRU has developed a draft policy and consultations with staff and students are drawing to a close.

A private member’s bill introduced last year requires all B.C. post-secondary institutions to implement a policy by May 2017.

TRU has already held three out of four open information sessions to discuss its draft policy with staff and students. The last student session will be held on Oct. 27 from 10 to 11 a.m. in the TRUSU Lecture Hall.

Despite all students being notified via email, the consultation sessions have seen low attendance. There were just six people at the Oct. 13 meeting, and five at the Sept. 29 meeting. However, those who attended have provided input coming from a diverse range of backgrounds.

Jean Strong, a student who attended the last two meetings, has been involved from the start. She was sexually assaulted in 2012, and when she reported the assault to a councillor, she was advised to change schools. Strong later wrote an article about her experience and has been an advocate for change.

Strong is excited to be so close to the end of a process she helped start.

“They’ve definitely put their nose to the grindstone and worked on it diligently. As someone who has experienced [sexual assault], I want it in place now, and it’s hard to be patient and wait, but I know it has to be done right,” she said.

The draft policy takes a victim-centred approach. It defines sexual violence as including not only assault, but everything from voyeurism to stalking. It also makes a distinction between disclosure, or telling someone informally that they have been assaulted, and reporting, which calls for the university to investigate.

Strong is happy with the draft policy, but still wants to see specific victim supports in the final version.

“So when students come forward to disclose or report, they’re told, ‘This is what’s available, this is what we can do,’ rather than having to ask for it,” she said.

An example of specific options: she would like to include changing a victim’s schedule, changing parking stalls, and creating a safe study space, intended to help the victim avoid the accused.

Another issue discussed at the most recent meeting is that of ensuring that the policy, once developed, is implemented. Individuals within the university must know how to deal with a disclosure. The point was made that faculty should have adequate training, and an “email blast” is not enough.

Although policy will help provide victims with support, it won’t prevent sexual violence.

“The culture of TRU has to shift dramatically, and the policy is a good step, but it’s not going to do it by itself,” Strong said. At the meeting, she suggested bystander training and including a discussion on consent during orientation.

In addition to hosting these information sessions, students can also submit anonymous input until Oct. 31 by visiting www.tru.ca/forms/sexualviolence.