Sexual violence and the University

by Faculty Association | Filed under December 2016, President's Message.

– By Sandra Hoenle, Faculty Association President –

As a society, it is an understatement to say that we are not doing well in dealing with issues of sexual violence. Incidents of domestic abuse in Calgary are at an all-time high. The military, the RCMP and our local police force seem to be failing to protect their members from sexual harassment. A member of Alberta’s legislature requires special protection after being subject to vile misogynistic comments and a spectrum of threats, and sexual harassment of women elected to local, provincial, and federal levels of government is not uncommon. The judicial system appears to be failing complainants. The recent high profile trial of a Canadian media personality might be taken to demonstrate that a complainant in a sexual assault trial is on trial just as much as the accused. I will leave it to the legal experts to judge whether or not this represents a flaw in our judicial system. Regardless, continued widespread myths and stereotypes, particularly about women’s dress, behavior, and sexuality continue to contribute to a systemic blaming of the victims of sexual violence. Universities across Canada and the United States are also in the public eye related to incidents of sexual violence and harassment.

It is within this concerning and controversial context that University’s Administration is proceeding with a policy to address sexual violence.  We agree all members of the University community deserve a safe learning, living and working environment, and that victims of sexual violence need to feel comfortable and safe in reporting such violence. Measures to debunk stereotypes and myths, and to raise awareness and understanding of consent regarding sexual relations are essential in addressing sexual violence. Support must be given to those whose lives have been traumatized by sexual violence. However, as concerning and unacceptable sexual violence is, it is also critical to ensure that procedures put in place to address the problem fairly protect the rights of all members of the university community and should not create the presumption of guilt until proven innocent. However well intended, procedures to address sexual violence need to recognize their potential impact and irreparable damage to the lives of all involved.

The Faculty Association has always played an important role both in supporting victims of sexual violence on campus and ensuring a fair process. It is from this experience that the Faculty Association should and must speak out to raise important concerns about the proposed Sexual Violence Policy. I will mention only a few of the issues that need to be carefully addressed.

The Administration’s current draft of a new Sexual Violence Policy defines sexual violence and outlines reporting procedures and how such reports are to be dealt with. Careful consideration is needed to ensure that the Collective Agreement is not violated, and that fundamental and procedural fairness are adhered to.

The Policy deals with complex issues fraught with emotion and an understandable sense of urgency. However, it is questionable whether this policy can or should be able to reach into the private lives of a married or cohabiting couple, as some sections of the draft seem to suggest. Further, the policy does not adequately address how privacy will be ensured, including the creation of files, their content, where they will be kept, who will have access to them, and how long and in what cases such files will be maintained.

In summary, very careful framing of the Policy is needed to ensure that complainants and respondents are treated fairly, that no collective agreement is violated, and that fundamental and procedural fairness are adhered to. If we get this policy wrong, we risk doing great harm in spite of the best of intentions. Therefore, let’s take the time and care to get it right.


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