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UVic starts talks on sexualized violence policy

Province aims to impose one-year deadline on post-secondary institutions

New legislation introduced last week aims to make campuses safer and more responsive to the needs of victims by requiring public post-secondary institutions to establish sexual misconduct policies within one year of the bill passing.

The University of Victoria starts consultations this month to develop a separate policy on sexualized violence.

“Sexualized violence is a significant issue both on our campus and in the wider community and we have an important role to play as leaders, educators and community partners,” said UVic president Jamie Cassels.

The university is part of a provincial initiative that started last December to provide a framework for post-secondary institutions on sexual violence.

Bill 23, the Sexual Violence and Misconduct Policy Act, requires every public university, college and institute in the province to develop a sexual misconduct policy.

“Adding the weight of the law sends a clear signal that acts of sexual violence against students will not be tolerated on post-secondary campuses,” said Oak Bay-Gordon Head MLA Andrew Weaver, who introduced a private member’s bill on the topic in March. “It is welcome news that government has stood up along with post-secondary institutions to say enough is enough.”

Currently, public post-secondary institutions in the province are not required to have policies that address sexual violence or misconduct or have prevention initiatives or complaint response procedures established.

UVic has policies and programs that encompass the prevention and response to issues of sexualized violence, including survivor support and provisions for a confidential, fair process when assaults are reported. It does not have a policy that focuses exclusively on sexualized violence.

The UVic policy will build on current policies and practices and reinforce the university’s commitment to a safe campus.

“A working group with diverse members is undertaking this important work at UVic to recommend a campus-wide policy on sexualized violence,” said project sponsor Valerie Kuehne, VP Academic and Provost.

Annalee Lepp, chair of the Department of Gender Studies, will chair the Working Group on Sexualized Violence Programs and Policy Development. Consultations will include survivors of sexualized violence and those most vulnerable to sexualized violence, groups on and off campus who have experience working with survivors, legal counsel and policy experts among others.

A draft policy is expected for early 2017 for review and further input for a policy that would go to the Board of Governors for approval in spring 2017.

Once established, sexual misconduct policies would require regular review with student consultation.

“It is important to break the silence on violence against women wherever it happens,” said Tracy Porteous, executive director of Ending Violence Association of BC. “Despite the growing number of sexual violence incidents on campuses, very few people know what to do should abuse or violence appear. Legislation that requires clear policies on how to respond to and prevent sexual violence will ensure safer campuses, while giving higher profile to the issue.”