“We took the time to get it right”
Standalone policy on sexual assault took effect Sept. 1.
“Almost two years ago we recognized there was a need for us to review our behavioural conduct policies, including the policies and procedures for sexual assault and other forms of sexual discrimination and sexual violence because they weren’t clear, they weren’t consistent,” says Susan Gottheil, Vice-Provost (Students).
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 to individuals who experience sexual assault and to provide guidelines and training to community members on how to respond to a disclosure of sexual violence.
A new sexual assault website was created as part of the implementation of the policy. The site serves as a resource to help those who are looking to get or give support.
Under the previous policy sexual assault and other forms of sexual discrimination and sexual violence were covered under the Respectful Work and Learning Environment as well as other policies at the U of M.
“There was a drive to try and make things simpler and easier to understand so we went through a very long period of consultation with the community. One of the responses we received was the need to have a separate standalone policy for sexual assault,” says Gottheil.
The policy was the culmination of an extensive consultation process. Consultation took place with many different groups on both the Bannatyne and Fort Garry campuses. In total, 17 presentations were given to students, staff and faculty.
“The standalone nature of the new policy emphasizes the seriousness of the issue. We did talk about including it within existing policies, which govern behaviour on campus, and determined that it warranted a unique and special amount of attention,” says Gregory Juliano, Associate Vice-President (Human Resources).
“We were not the first university out of the gate to announce such a policy – but this is because we took the time to get it right. We engaged in very extensive consultations and research.”
UMSU representatives were among those who helped draft the new standalone policy. Dara Hallock, Vice-President, Advocacy was elected after the draft was finalized, but did vote positively for it when the policy was passed by the Board of Governors.
“It means a lot to me the University has a standalone policy on sexual assault. To me it means that the U of M values the seriousness of such assaults and by outlining within the policy the need for such things as education on consent and sexual violence, it means they care about changing the culture of consent here on campus,” says Hallock.
Hallock had the chance to discuss the issue with many of her counterparts across the country this summer. She says she’s grateful for the opportunity to speak with other student leaders about these issues and says the U of M is making progress in the areas of consent culture and sexual violence prevention. She says she was proud to share with other union executives how cooperative the administration at the U of M has been involving student leaders from UMSU and the GSA.
“We have consent culture workshops offered through UMSU for free, we have bystander intervention training being offered for students and staff through the university, and we have a standalone policy. Many student unions are still advocating for the things we now have mandated.”
One of the key elements of the new policy is the recognition that an individual who experiences sexual assault will retain control over the process of reporting a sexual assault. The university may decide to intervene in the case of a minor or if there is an obligation to protect the campus community from harm.
“We want a safe and inclusive community,” says Gottheil. “We take sexual assault seriously. We’re going to respect the person who experiences sexual assault, we’re going to support them and take their direction as to how they want to have an issue resolved.”