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“Sexual violence will not be tolerated on our campuses”

Presidential and Provostial Committee on Prevention and Response to Sexual Violence releases report

“Sexual violence will not be tolerated on our campuses.”

That sentence sums up the report of the Presidential and Provostial Committee on Prevention and Response to Sexual Violence, which the committee has recently submitted to U of T President Meric Gertler and Vice-President and Provost Cheryl Regehr.

Read the report

Gertler and Regehr established the committee in November 2014 to come up with recommendations to prevent and respond to sexual violence at U of T. Chaired by Vice-President Human Resources & Equity Angela Hildyard and Vice-Provost Students Sandy Welsh (replacing former Vice-Provost Jill Matus), the committee included students, staff and faculty from all three U of T campuses. 

The committee makes five major recommendations to the University:

  • Create a sexual violence policy and protocol with a clear affirmation that sexual assault and harassment will not be tolerated at U of T;
  • Establish a sexual violence centre with a tri-campus presence to assist in triage, reporting and providing support for individuals who have experienced sexual violence;
  • Review existing policies and procedures to ensure they reflect the institutional commitment and provide mechanisms appropriate for resolving the full range of complaints of sexual harassment and assault;
  • Establish university-wide education and training programs, including prevention programs, professional development and education for faculty and staff, and communication and awareness strategies targeted to students, staff and faculty;
  • Regularly review the report’s recommendations and principles to ensure that progress is made and institutional commitment remains strong.

In addition, the committee outlines four principles for the University to adhere to: 

  • Strive to create an environment where staff, students and faculty are safe; 
  • Use language that is sensitive to the experiences of individuals who have experienced sexual violence;
  • Ground all programs and services related to sexual violence in principles of equity; and
  • Ensure that all policies and procedures include the principles of procedural fairness.

Regehr and Gertler said they would immediately begin to review the report’s recommendations. 

“The University of Toronto is committed to doing all it can to prevent sexual violence and to ensure that those who have experienced it get the supports they need,” Gertler said. “I want to thank the members of the committee and everyone who provided input for their hard work and dedication to addressing this crucial issue.”

“As we develop our response to the review, we encourage all members of the university community to continue to offer their comments,” Regehr said. “We are confident that the recommendations in the report will help us continue to improve the university’s prevention and response efforts related to sexual violence.”

The committee held more than 25 community consultations with students, distributed an online survey, and held meetings with important stakeholders from all three campuses, such as Students for Barrier Free Access, the Women’s Centre and Student Societies among many others, Welsh said. It also received submissions from individuals and groups such as Thrive U of T and U of T Students Against Sexual Violence. The committee also consulted with several external groups such as Family Services Toronto, the Peel Sexual Assault Centre, the Toronto Rape Crisis Centre and the David Kelley LGBTQ + HIV/AIDS Counselling Services.

“Ultimately, our campus community must be one that supports individuals who have experienced sexual violence and removes barriers that otherwise prevent individuals from accessing important resources and services on campus,” the report’s preamble states. “We must work collaboratively to address damaging underlying attitudes and behaviours that perpetuate acts of sexual violence.”

Welsh said the committee felt it was important that all voices are heard, including those of marginalized groups, and of survivors of sexual violence. “Students need know that the university is serious about addressing sexual violence and taking into account their experiences and perspectives.

“We also want to ensure that our policies are done right, that procedures for reporting and disclosure of sexual violence are clear and that they also respect procedural fairness for both the complainant and respondent in order to ensure that the outcome is upheld.”

Hildyard said that sexual violence is an issue not only for students, but also for faculty and staff. “We need to ensure that all members of our community feel safe from sexual violence and are respectful in their interactions with others,” she said.

Last October, Hildyard and Regehr appointed Professor Kelly Hannah-Moffat as advisor to the provost and vice-president, Human Resources & Equity, on Sexual Violence and Crisis Services. Hannah-Moffat, the interim vice-principal academic and dean, University of Toronto Mississauga, and director of the Centre for Criminology and Sociolegal Studies, has a mandate to review and make recommendations regarding the structure and coordination of sexual violence services and related crisis services. Her work builds on that of the committee, of which she is also a member.

The recommendations represent a beginning not an ending, Gertler said. “We look forward to engaging the University community on next steps.”

Feedback may be sent to reportfeedback@utoronto.ca.

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