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Work continues on Queen's sexual violence policy

The Sexual Violence Prevention and Response Task Force works to advance sexual violence education and prevention at Queen’s.

Members of the Sexual Violence Prevention and Response Task Force gathered on Nov. 25 to discuss the recently released Courage to Act Report. The report is the result of a two-year national initiative to address gender-based violence on post-secondary campuses in Canada. Developed through funding from the Government of Canada, the report identifies recommendations, promising practices, and gaps in preventing and addressing gender-based violence on Canadian campuses. Throughout the 2020 winter term, the task force, which includes faculty, staff, and student representatives, will explore how Queen’s sexual violence initiatives align with the recommendations and determine if any areas require additional focus.

Queen’s Sexual Violence Prevention and Response Task Force was formed in 2013, then referred to as the Sexual Violence Prevention and Response Working Group, to enhance coordination of Queen’s sexual violence prevention, awareness, and response initiatives. As legislation, best practices, and research on sexual violence have evolved in recent years, the student, staff, and faculty representatives on the task force have played an important role in informing the university’s work in this important area.

“The university is committed to enhancing education efforts aimed at sexual violence prevention and providing support for those who have experienced sexual violence,” says Tom Harris, Interim Provost and Vice-Principal (Academic). “Best practices in effectively responding to cases of sexual violence and supporting survivors are evolving as research in this area grows. The Queen’s Sexual Violence Prevention and Response Task Force provides an important forum to discuss emerging practices and initiatives.” 

Since its inception, the task force has made important contributions to sexual violence prevention and awareness at Queen’s. The group developed a report in 2014-15, which, along with new legislation and government directives, helped to inform the university’s sexual violence work. Many new initiatives have been introduced over the past five years, including training and education programming, increased staff resources and support services, an academic consideration process for sexual violence survivors, and a policy and process for responding to sexual violence complaints. 

When the Ontario government passed the Sexual Violence and Harassment Action Plan Act in 2016, each college and university in the province was required to have a policy on sexual violence. The act also required post-secondary institutions to develop formal complaint processes, support services, and annual reports to the Ministry. Queen’s Board of Trustees approved the updated Sexual Violence Policy in May 2016 and subsequently updated it in Dec. 2016, giving it the new name of the Policy on Sexual Violence Involving Queen’s University Students. Following its adoption, the university put additional processes and resources in place in order to align with the new policy and enhance supports for those who have experienced sexual violence.

One of the most significant developments in the university’s approach to sexual violence has been the creation of the position of sexual violence prevention and response coordinator in the Human Rights and Equity Office in 2015. The coordinator’s mandate includes providing information to students regarding policies, options, and support services. They also coordinate training and education on campus, and engage with community partners to help students access external services. Since its creation, this position has helped many students access the services they need from offices across the university. To provide additional supports for students, in 2016 a sexual violence counsellor position was created in Student Wellness Services, a unit within Student Affairs.

The Bystander Intervention Training program, launched in 2015, provides students, staff, and faculty the tools needed to recognize and respond to sexual violence. More than 2,500 students take the training every year. All orientation leaders, student volunteers, dons, residence student leaders, counsellors, and other first responders, including security staff, complete the program.

Since 2015, all first-year undergraduate students also learn about sexual violence and consent through a keynote address delivered during orientation. For this talk, Queen’s brings in prominent consent educators, such as Karen B.K. Chan, Farrah Khan, and Mike Domitrz, to speak about these issues with students. Posters on consent and sexual violence support resources are also distributed across campus annually to enhance awareness.

In 2017, the first annual Sexual Violence Prevention and Response Framework was developed to outline the university’s approach to sexual violence education, prevention, and response. The framework, which is updated annually, illustrates the collaborative campus-wide efforts to address sexual violence at Queen’s, and includes an inventory of Queen’s sexual violence services, programs and initiatives.

The Academic Considerations for Students in Extenuating Circumstances Policy was approved by the Queen’s Senate in April 2017, and it includes considerations for students who have experienced sexual violence. Queen’s also launched the Sexual Violence Prevention and Response website in 2017 to provide a centralized guide to sexual violence resources on campus. In 2019, the Director of the Office of Student Conduct position was created to manage the more complex cases of conduct on campus, including cases of sexual violence under the Policy on Sexual Violence Involving Queen’s University Students.

The university has also completed annual reports documenting statistics regarding sexual violence on campus for both the 2017-2018 and 2018-2019 academic years.        

The university is making ongoing efforts to take a trauma-informed approach to care. Student Affairs recently created a new “soft space” room for survivors of sexual violence and other traumas. The new room, which will open in December 2019, has been remodeled to be a welcoming and confidential space with carpeting, soft lighting, art, and comfortable chairs to make it easier for victims of sexual violence and other trauma survivors to participate in the formal complaint process.

As part of the task force’s ongoing work, Interim Provost Harris has asked the group to consider feedback from the Queen’s community that was provided in response to the updated Policy on Sexual Violence Involving Queen’s University Students. After considering the responses, the task force will provide recommendations for next steps to the university’s Senior Leadership Team. Any further revisions to the policy made by the Senior Leadership Team will be circulated to the Queen’s community for comment.

Drawing on perspectives from across the university, the 2019-2020 membership of the task force includes students, staff, and administration. The members are:

  • Ann Tierney, Vice-Provost and Dean of Student Affairs (Co-Chair)
  • Stephanie Simpson, AVP Human Rights, Equity and Inclusion (Co-Chair)
  • Barbara Lotan, Sexual Violence Prevention and Response Coordinator
  • Corinna Fitzgerald, Assistant Dean, Student Life and Learning
  • Lindsay Winger, Assistant Dean, Support Services and Community Engagement
  • Lavonne Hood, University Ombudsman
  • Kate Murray, Director, Residence Life
  • Rina Gupta, Director of Counselling, Student Wellness Services
  • Kate Humphrys, Manager, Health Promotion, Student Wellness Services
  • Nadia Sawaya-Fehr, Residence Outreach Counsellor, Student Wellness Services
  • Kim Graham, Sexual Assault Centre Kingston
  • Lea Keren, Sexual Violence Bystander Intervention Training Coordinator
  • Brea Hutchinson, Executive Director, Sexual Assault Centre Kingston
  • Sofia Melendez, Assistant Director, Sexual Health Resource Centre
  • Betsy Donald, Associate Dean, School of Graduate Studies
  • Meredith Chivers, Associate Professor and Director of Sexuality and Gender Laboratory, Department of Psychology
  • Murray Skeggs, Case Management Coordinator, Campus Security
  • Sreya Roy, Levana Gender Advocacy Centre
  • Will Greene, Vice-President University Affairs, Alma Mater Society
  • Jeremy Ambraska, President, Society of Graduate and Professional Students
  • Alexandra Da Silva, Rector
  • Lisa Doxtater, Cultural Counsellor, Four Directions Indigenous Student Centre
  • Bunisha Samuels, Social Issues Commissioner, Alma Mater Society
  • Andie Rexdiemer, Manager, Peer Support Centre, Alma Mater Society
  • Penny Zhang, Equity & Diversity Commissioner, Society of Graduate and Professional Students
  • Melissa Seal, Legal Counsel