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Update on U of T’s policy on sexual violence and sexual harassment

A final draft of the University of Toronto’s new policy on sexual violence and sexual harassment is headed to governance to be considered for approval – with changes that reflect feedback received during the final round of consultations.

“This new policy puts the University in a stronger position to effectively address the challenge of sexual violence on our campuses,” said Vice-President and Provost Cheryl Regehr.

“We heard a lot of very thoughtful comments from diverse and sometimes opposing points of view,” Regehr said. “We have tried to strike a balance with this policy, and I think the feedback shows we achieved that.”

The new policy will go through governance beginning this week and will go to Governing Council in December for final approval. It will apply to all members of the U of T community and gives everyone – students, faculty and staff – access to the same supports and services. 

“It’s important that we provide a safe working and learning environment for our faculty, staff and students where everyone is treated with respect,” said Kelly Hannah-Moffat, vice-president of human resources and equity.  

An earlier draft of the policy was released in September.

Read about the draft

In response to feedback, this final proposed policy emphasizes the supports available at various stages of the process and includes a strengthened commitment to due process and procedural fairness. Details about the investigation process also were added and expectations about confidentiality and its limits were described in more detail. The term sexual harassment has been added to the title to reflect the scope of the policy.   

Creating the new policy is one of several actions U of T is taking to improve its response to sexual violence. It follows 18 months of consultations and research, including the advice of an expert panel that delivered its recommendations in August.

Read about the recommendations

Provincial law requires that all universities and colleges in the province have a policy on sexual violence in place by January 2017. 

The changes set to take effect next year at U of T will apply to all incidents between members of the community whether they take place on or off campus or online. 

The new policy aims to reduce the barriers to disclosure and reporting by minimizing the number of times complainants are asked to tell their story and maintaining as much confidentiality as possible. 

It makes a clear distinction between disclosing an incident and making a formal report, and there is no requirement to make a report in order to access support as well as academic, employment and other accommodations. Informal resolution or mediation is only possible under the policy with the agreement of both parties and cannot involve face-to-face meetings between the complainant and the respondent.

Central to the new policy is the creation of a Sexual Violence Prevention and Support Centre, which will have a presence on all three campuses by January. The centre will manage the process for reporting sexual violence and sexual harassment and will offer support for those who disclose an incident, whether or not they choose to report it. It also will provide training and education and will be the first point of contact for those who want accommodations.  

Read more about the Centre

The policy is part of U of T’s action plan to prevent and respond to sexual violence. As part of that plan, two other expert panels will offer advice. An expert panel on education and prevention activities is conducting specialized consultation with student leaders and staff and will begin broad consultations this winter. The Sexual Violence Climate Survey Advisory Board, chaired by Professor Sandy Welsh, is following the survey development work of the the Ministry of Advanced Education and Skills Development and its plans for a university sector climate survey.

The university also has hired an Executive Director, Personal Safety, High Risk & Sexual Violence Prevention and Support, who will oversee sexual violence prevention and response initiatives, and take the lead on community safety and high-risk matters.

Read more about the executive director

“We look forward to continuing our efforts in this area as we begin the hard work of implementing the changes so many have helped to shape,” Regehr said.