Concordia releases report of its review of sexual assault policies
Concordia is implementing recommendations made by a working group that conducted a formal review of the university’s policies and procedures that address sexual assault.
The Sexual Assault Policy Review Working Group, chaired by Deputy Provost Lisa Ostiguy, submitted their report to president Alan Shepard this spring.
The working group — which included students, faculty and staff members — examined Concordia’s policies and procedures, conducted consultations with nine constituencies within the community, and researched best practices at other North American universities.
The report presents recommendations in five key areas: policy; procedures and processes; education and training; communications; and evaluation related to sexual violence.
“Our intention was to look at our existing policies at a time when the issue of sexual assault is prominent in the social sphere and to ensure that Concordia is doing everything it can to provide a safe environment for its community,” says Ostiguy, who emphasizes that the working group wasn’t created in response to a particular incident at Concordia.
In fact, Concordia has taken many important steps to creating a safe environment. It was the first university to create the position of sexual harassment advisor in 1987 and one of the first to adopt a policy on sexual assault in the early 1990s.
In 2013, the university launched the Sexual Assault Resource Centre (SARC) to inform the campus community about consent and prevention, and to provide survivor support.
“I’d like to thank Lisa and the members of the working group for their due diligence in preparing this report that will serve Concordia well in the future,” says Shepard. “I’ve accepted all of the recommendations and the community can expect progress updates in the months ahead.”
However, says Ostiguy, it will take time to fully develop some of the recommendations, and to measure their effectiveness. That’s why the report includes a section on evaluation.
“There was a strong sense that there should be long-term follow-up on the recommendations to keep them current and to introduce new recommendations when merited.”
Highlights of the report’s recommendations
Policy improvements and centralized information
Among the report’s recommendations is the creation of a new stand-alone policy on sexual violence. The university’s existing policies cover both sexual harassment and sexual assault in one section under the Code of Rights and Responsibilities.
Based on the input from a variety of sources, the working group is suggesting “that the term ‘sexual violence’ is more appropriate because it communicates much more detail than sexual harassment and assault.”
Other recommendations include creating new materials to communicate clearer procedures to follow when reporting an incident of sexual violence, and creating a centralized web page that brings together related campus resources and makes it easier for survivors to find information.
The report also recommends implementing a protocol to facilitate better communication between the various university departments that provide services to survivors of sexual violence.
“We have a lot of support in place, but it’s not always clear where to go and when,” says Ostiguy. “We need clearer communication.”
The university has already revamped its website to bring together information on related resources, what to do in cases of sexual assault as well as the Sexual Assault Resource Centre. More changes are in the works.
The first phase of making changes to policies and improving communications has begun with full implementation expected by the end of the 2015-16 academic year.
Ostiguy says other recommendations will take more time to implement because they require amendments to policies and procedures, and some have resource implications that will be addressed. This includes amendments to the Code of Rights and Responsibilities. Working groups will be created this fall to move this process forward.
Focus on more education and training
The working group also recommended that greater emphasis be placed on education and training on consent, and building a better understanding of attitudes that can lead to sexual violence.
Concordia’s Sexual Assault Resource Centre recently launched a Leaders in Prevention program to help raise awareness among students on the role they can play in preventing sexual violence through leadership, role modelling, bystander intervention and consent. The first groups to participate in this training include Concordia Stingers’ coaches and athletes.
Additionally, this fall the centre plans to implement its ongoing consent campaign, Ask, Listen, Respect, as well as its bystander program.
“We’re going to look at all the resources available to support the centre’s mandate so we can better support its programming and expand its activities,” says Ostiguy.
Learn more about Concordia’s Sexual Assault Resource Centre.