Ryerson’s sexual violence policy better, but needs work

Navigating Ryerson can be daunting, but it’s important that the school ensures students are aware of essentials available for them on campus. One of those essentials is the sexual violence policy.

Prior to June 2015, Ryerson didn’t even have a sexual violence policy available.There were mentions of sexual violence in the general discrimination and harassment policy, but nothing existed that solely addressed sexual violence. The Office of Vice-Provost Students drafted the sexual violence policy with “extensive input from the community, particularly students”, according to vice-provost Heather Lane Vetere.

The following June, the Ontario government passed Bill 132, the Sexual Violence and Harassment Action Plan Act. This bill requires post-secondary institutions to create a sexual violence policy which “sets out the process for how the private career college will respond to and address incidents and complaints of sexual violence involving students enrolled at the private career college.”

Ryerson’s policy included most of what the bill details, but it skips the obligation to explain how the university will respond to and investigate reported incidents of sexual violence.

Vetere’s office worked with Human Rights Services, Human Resources and the general counsel office to review the policy.

She said she intended to take the revised policy to the board of approval by the week of Nov. 21, but the input they received from students and student organizations was so extensive that they only released the revised version on Jan. 13.

Jessica Ketwaroo-Green, fourth-year business student and special events and campaign manager at the Centre for Women and Trans People, says the Centre provided the university with many recommendations with mixed results. She noted that though the university did well in updating the policy in terms of wording and definitions, they rejected the Centre’s proposal for the policy to include an official position against the anti-choice, counter reproductive justice movements and against gender-based intimidation tactics.

We also wanted to make sure that the procedures were very survivor-centric—not always putting the onus on the survivor to do things—and making sure those processes were conducive to needs of the survivors,” Ketwaroo-Green said.

A large part of the university’s recent efforts regarding sexual violence has been the creation of the Office of Sexual Violence Support and Education, along with Farrah Khan’s position as co-ordinator. Khan is well-known for her work to raise awareness about gender-based violence, and her work has covered much of what the policy asks, but their resources may be strained.

Since being hired just over a year ago, Khan has developed educational materials for community members, personally supported survivors who came to her, trained Ryerson’s student staff, residents, staff at the Ram in the Rye and athletic teams and developed materials for staff who might have a student disclose information to them.

Ryerson graduate Hana Shafi says the school now needs to look into expanding resources for the office, including more than one co-ordinator, saying, “A wider array of counsellors and advocacy workers need to be present at Ryerson for survivors.” Shafi says it won’t necessarily be sustainable to have everyone going to one person and one place for resources.

Jenny Carson, history professor and member of one of the advisory committees for the sexual violence support office, agrees. She says allocating more resources toward the Office of Sexual Violence Support and Education would be “ideal”, but the struggle to do so is magnified by the fact that the office—and positions within it—has only existed for about a year.

For Ketwaroo-Green, a year is more than enough time to start working towards improving the office that she says has been “proven to be understaffed.” She also thinks a year is enough time to review the policy, rather than reviewing the policy every two years as Ryerson has promised. Ketwaroo-Green believes there will be more students reporting, so it’s important to see where Ryerson is going wrong more frequently.

Both Ketwaroo-Green and Carson also feel Ryerson’s next step is making its community members aware of the policy and what it entails. “I think there has to be more outreach to staff and faculty to bring them up to speed on the policy, the office and the services it provides to have the knowledge to direct anybody who may confide in them to direct them to those resources,” said Carson.

As for students, Ketwaroo-Green believes they need to be better-informed about the policy and the processes it outlines because, dealing with an incident can be scary, and “you should be able to know what exactly you’re getting yourself into before an incident like that happens.” She says Ryerson has to do more work to ensure students know what to expect should they choose to report.

Ketwaroo-Green believes, however, that if there’s an expansion in the Office of Sexual Violence Support and Education, those processes and policies will be more clear to those who turn to the office.

If anything has been made clear by outcomes like Trump’s election, it’s that now is a vital time to devote energy and resources to the issue of sexual violence. It unfortunately may not have been on the radar for university administration in the past, but it’s essential that Ryerson makes the office, the policy and survivors a priority for budgeting in the upcoming year.