U of T pledges to ‘build best systems and practices’ to protect university community from sexual violence

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(Photo by Geoffrey Vendeville)

The University of Toronto is pledging to build the best systems and practices to protect its community members from sexual violence and harassment, support survivors and foster an environment of consent, accountability and respect.

President Meric Gertler said in a statement, following an Al Jazeera report, that he is committed to bringing necessary change in this area.

“Let me be clear: sexual violence – indeed sexual harassment of any kind – has absolutely no place at the University of Toronto,” President Gertler said.

“I want to assure members of our community – especially survivors – that I am according this issue the highest priority.”

Earlier this month, a review of U of T’s Policy on Sexual Violence and Sexual Harassment, as well as the supports available to members of the U of T community, was launched. The periodic review comes as post-secondary institutions across Canada and around the world contend with issues surrounding sexual violence and harassment, as well as regulatory amendments by the Ontario government that require universities and colleges to update sexual violence and harassment policies.

President Gertler said he has asked the review to make every effort to include input from survivors, as well as tri-campus and college engagement. He said he has also asked the review to address four specific questions pertaining to the university’s sexual violence policies and practices:

  • What are the best practices to address the barriers to reporting and to provide support for survivors?
  • How do we appropriately account for power dynamics that are inherent in institutions of higher learning?
  • Given the importance of communication and transparency, what information can be shared with participants engaged in, and at the conclusion of, a sexual violence process while taking into account confidentiality, privacy obligations and a fair and effective process?
  • Should the university sector develop a process for sharing information between institutions about findings of sexual violence misconduct by faculty members?

“While we have worked hard to make our policies robust, we acknowledge that there is more that needs to be done – given the particular dynamics at play in higher education settings,” he said.

The consultation phase of U of T’s review is being led by Professor Linda Johnston, dean of the Lawrence S. Bloomberg Faculty of Nursing, and Allison Burgess, director of the Sexual & Gender Diversity Office. Students, staff, faculty and librarians will have opportunities to provide input through a mix of online and in-person consultations.

The president encouraged any member of the U of T community who has been affected by sexual harassment or violence to seek support from the university’s Sexual Violence Prevention & Support Centre. “If you choose to come forward, you will be doing so in a trauma-informed space, confidentially, protected from reprisal, and your concerns will be treated with the utmost seriousness,” he said.  

U of T developed a Policy on Sexual Violence and Sexual Harassment that came into effect in 2017 and applies to students, staff, faculty and librarians. It also established the Sexual Violence Prevention & Support Centre the same year, with locations on all three campuses. The centre helps students, staff and faculty who have been affected by sexual violence or sexual harassment access support, services and accommodations in a welcoming, safe and confidential space. It is open to any member of the U of T community, regardless of where or when the sexual violence occurred, or if the individual chooses to make a formal report.

President Gertler said it was important that U of T’s review address any gaps in the current policy.

“All members of the University community should have the ability to study, work, and live in a campus environment free from sexual violence, including sexual harassment,” he said.

“I pledge that the University of Toronto will do everything in its power to enhance our policies, and improve our systems and practices; to create an environment where survivors feel empowered to share their experiences and seek support; to build awareness; and to foster a culture of consent, accountability, and respect.

“That is the commitment I am making today.”

If you are in crisis or immediate danger, call 911.

The Sexual Violence Prevention & Support Centre has made extra support available for members of the U of T community impacted by the current news around sexual violence. For more information, see: https://uoft.me/svsupport

If you or someone you know has experienced sexual assault or harassment, 24-7 crisis support is also available from these community resources.

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