A new sexual violence policy is in effect at Concordia University this school year, which aims to improve and streamline support resources for victims of sexual assault and various forms of sexual harassment on campus.
The policy was created by a working group led by Lisa Ostiguy, Concordia’s deputy provost, and also included Jennifer Drummond, coordinator of the Sexual Assault Resource Centre. The group was set up to act on recommendations from Concordia’s sexual assault report, released in August 2015.
Among the report’s recommendations was that a “protocol be created to facilitate communications between the university departments that provide services to survivors of sexual violence.”
The new sexual violence policy, in response to this recommendation, establishes a group known as the Sexual Assault Response Team which will quickly convene in the event of sexual violence on campus, and coordinate a response and resources based on the needs and wishes of the victim.
Based on the circumstances of a particular case of sexual violence, the team could include representatives from Concordia’s security department, health services, the Office of Rights and Responsibilities, and the Dean of Students.
“That’s a really great way of bringing people into the same room, sharing information about what’s happening, who’s taking care of which piece—how can we best support this person?” explained Jennifer Drummond of the SARC. “It’s organized and efficient, without the person who’s experienced sexual violence or harassment having to go from service to service, door to door, appointment to appointment, repeating their story multiple times.”
According to Drummond, a method of reporting sexual violence which requires a victim to relive their experience multiple times, across multiple discussions with university resources, can add to the trauma—something the new policy seeks to avoid.
“It’s exhausting for someone who’s already overwhelmed and struggling,” Drummond said. “We want to make this process of getting help as easy as possible, and I think the response team achieves that.”
The new policy also aims to encourage a university response to sexual violence that is intersectional—meaning one that recognizes the circumstances that can make a person more vulnerable to such violence—accounting for an individual’s “national or ethnic origin, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, age, religion, disability/ability, indigeneity, immigration status, medical condition, such asHIV status, and/or socio-economic factors.”
According to Drummond, this intersectional approach will be key to providing effective support for victims of sexual violence.
“For some people, there are going to be more or less barriers, or different barriers,” explained Drummond, “It’s a way of being sensitive to the fact that the experience of sexual violence or harassment is quite different for everyone, and the support needed can be made different by these kinds of different circumstances.”
Although this new policy was created to improve the university’s response to cases of sexual violence, Drummond underscores that a victim’s confidentiality is an important factor to keep in mind. Unless there is a case where an individual is judged to be at imminent risk of harm, or reporting is required by law, a victim of sexual violence will make the choice about the level of action taken.
In particular, the policy distinguishes between disclosing an incidence of sexual violence—which can be done confidentially for the purposes of seeking support—and reporting an incidence of sexual violence, “a choice made by a survivor/victim who wishes to move towards a legal and/or disciplinary process in which anonymity is not possible.”
Drummond says that a victim can go to the SARC to disclose an incidence of sexual violence—to talk about the experience—and decide not to move ahead with a report.
“The survivor is the expert in their own life—they know what’s right for them,” Drummond affirmed. “It’s their choice, and we’re here to support them in whatever option they choose.”