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New sexual assault policy approved by Board of Governors

June 24, 2016 — 

The Board of Governors approved a new standalone sexual assault policy for the University of Manitoba community at its June 22nd meeting. The new policy is designed to provide support and training guidelines to assist in dealing with incidents of sexual assault and is the culmination of an extensive consultation process.

“As a community, we are pleased to have been able collectively to develop a sexual assault policy through a consultative process with a wide-ranging number of groups and individuals, including students, faculty, staff and subject area experts,” said President and Vice-Chancellor David T. Barnard. “After months of hard work, guided by our desire to promote a culture of respect and consent, the University of Manitoba has produced a policy built on the principles of clarity, fairness and safety and security. We have seen from other jurisdictions that getting every point right in the development of these policies can be challenging, but we are confident our process brought the right voices to the table to be heard, and we are committed to an ongoing assessment of the policy to ensure its effectiveness.”

In recent years there have been a number of examples that have underscored the need for a systematic response to sexual assault and violence on Canadian campuses. This prompted a review of procedures and supports that exist to prevent and respond to sexual assault on campus.

A working group was formed in 2014 to help propel the conversation about sexual assault and coordinate the supports available to members of the university community. The working group expanded and consulted with student, staff, faculty, and community representatives to develop a draft of the new sexual assault policy in spring of 2015. The drafts were provided for consultations with 17 campus groups and were posted online for public review in the fall of 2015. The feedback received from these consultations informed changes to the draft of the policy.

Although the drafting process and consultations began before the provincial government’s introduction of legislation, the new policy aligns with the proposals of Bill 204.

The new policy provides guidance, assistance and support to members of the University community who have experienced sexual assault or who have received a disclosure of a sexual assault. Many of the supports and procedures outlined in this new policy were already in place; however, these are now enshrined in official University policy.

“Establishing a clear and easily understood standalone sexual assault policy and procedures at the University of Manitoba is part of our ongoing effort to create a safe and inclusive campus community,” said Susan Gottheil, Vice-Provost (Students). “We will continue to work with our student, staff and faculty partners to provide information and training on sexual violence and to enhance support services for those who face harassment, discrimination and assault.”

Highlights of the new policy include:

  • Guidance for responding to disclosure of sexual assault, with a focus on providing a supportive response;
  • Recognition that the individual who experiences sexual assault is the final decision maker about his or her own interests;
  • An outline of who in the University will be consulted for the purpose of support and advice; and
  • A process for facilitating academic/work accommodations and safety plans for individuals affected by sexual assault.

Some supports and procedures have already been established. A website has been built that provides information about sexual assault as well as guidelines for responding to a disclosure of sexual assault. The Student/Staff Threat Assessment Triage Intervention Support team (STATIS) is a diverse team of professionals that has been established to promote a safe and respectful environment within the campus community. Bringing in the Bystander training encourages a community of responsibility, teaching bystanders how to intervene in situations that involve sexual violence. In addition, the development of student orientation programming related to responsible use of alcohol, sexual assault and consent contributes to a culture of safety and respect.

Other University governing documents were also revised to ensure a more streamlined and consistent approach to addressing misconduct. The Respectful Work and Learning Environment Policy, the Violent or Threatening Behaviour policy, the Inappropriate or Disruptive Student Behaviour policy, and the Student Discipline Bylaw have also been approved by the Board of Governors at its June 22nd meeting, and they now all have consistent language and processes and include appropriate cross-referencing.

“We’re very appreciative of the work done on the Student Discipline Bylaw, and it is important to note that these polices need to be continuously updated,” says Tanjit Nagra, UMSU president. “For example, sexual assault is most likely to occur on University campuses within the first 6-8 weeks of classes. It is important that UMSU and the administration work together to create a safer campus for students, and to ensure that the proper protocols are in place to help survivors of sexual assault, and other misconduct as well.”

Over the next few months the working group will begin rolling out the policy changes and will meet next week to review next steps. These include updating protocols to reflect the new policy, providing training to individuals and departments that deal with sexual assault reports, and communicating with the broader university community.

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