Why BC needs legislation to address sexual violence at universities and colleges

On March 8, Andrew Weaver tabled a bill based on similar legislation in Ontario that aims to address the pervasive occurrence of sexualized violence plaguing universities, colleges, and other post-secondary schools in British Columbia.

The bill creates a legal responsibility for universities and colleges to develop and maintain policies that would work to prevent the occurrences of sexual violence and provide support for survivors.

 

After tabling the bill, the BC Green Party received several questions via email and social media about why the bill is necessary.

Some British Columbians asked, for example, why we need the new legislation at all. If sexual assault is already illegal, isn’t it the job of police and the courts to deal with such crimes? Why do universities need their own policies?

These are good questions that require clarification of the scope and intent of Dr. Weaver’s bill. Very broadly, there are three key factors it seeks to address:

  1. The number of people being sexually assaulted at post-secondary institutions is incredibly high and absolutely unacceptable.
  2. Academic institutions by their nature have a system of self-policing and students do, and will continue to, turn to their schools for guidance and support.
  3. These institutions are having a difficult time addressing these issues in an appropriate manner.

Inconsistencies in how universities and colleges deal with reported sexual violence — both between departments and different schools — are the source of many additional problems. Schools need clear, concise guidelines for what to do when a student approaches them to say that they have been raped, for example.

In Andrew Weaver’s riding, 50 UVic students have gone to the sexual assault centre for assistance since September. When the University of Ottawa surveyed its student body last year, it found that 44% of female students experienced sexual violence or unwanted sexual touching while attending the university.

This is a huge problem and schools across the board need guidelines for how to deal with it. Universities are not equipped to replace the justice system, nor does this bill suggest they should. The bill states: “Every university shall have a sexual violence policy that, sets out the process for how the university will respond to and address incidents and complaints of sexual violence involving students enrolled at the university.”

Criminal investigation is certainly best left to trained professionals—the police and the courts are better equipped than universities to investigate allegations of sexual violence and prosecute suspects. But those investigations can only happen after a crime has taken place.

To seriously address this problem, we need better data. Without a law in place, colleges and universities may hesitate to report sexual violence statistics accurately in case it affects their reputations. For example, if one school records and reports every sexual assault, its numbers will appear much higher than schools who do not collect any information. Students considering attending that school may think twice about enrolling, even though there are not necessarily more cases of sexual assault there than at other institutions.

Andrew’s bill ensures that post-secondary schools establish and maintain clear, concise guidelines for what to do when an allegation of sexual assault is made. It takes aim at the root causes of sexual violence by encouraging universities to foster a culture of consent through education for students, a safe environment, and support for survivors.

Thanks so much to everyone who wrote to us with questions about the bill.

 

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