Despite having campuses in two cities with some of the highest rates of sexual assault in the country, UNB still has no formal sexual assault policy. But thanks to one counsellor’s efforts, that could soon change.
While UNB’s existing Discrimination, Sexual Harassment and Harassment Policy broadly covers physical battery, sexual assault victims are directed to contact the Fredericton Sexual Assault Crisis Centre.
Kathleen Pye, mental health strategist and campus sexual assault team advocate, is leading the charge to create a long-overdue program for UNB. She has been drafting a policy that is currently going through the approval process.
“Right now we don’t have any policy or procedures,” she said. “In terms of how individual groups [of the Student Health Centre] respond to sexual violence, they do a good job. The problem is we’re not working as a unit, which makes it slower and creates room for error. So what we’re trying to do is streamline it.”
A MacLean’s report on Canada’s most dangerous cities cited a 2011 survey that said that Fredericton residents endure the second highest rate of per-capita sexual assault in the country, behind Saint John – 88 per cent higher than the rest of the nation.
“Sexual violence is something that happens to one in every five women on campus,” Pye said. “It’s higher for the LGBTQ population — not to say it doesn’t happen to men, either. Looking at the statistics of Fredericton, it’s something that has to be done because it’s happening here — whether we want it to or not.”
Canadian universities have been under fire recently for lack of formal sexual harassment policies after a 23-year-old student at Lakehead University in Ontario wanted to deal with her sexual assault privately through university channels, but found little support — even ending up in the same class as her rapist.
Her experience persuaded Lakehead to create a comprehensive policy for dealing with sexual assault. According to an investigation by the Toronto Star, of 78 universities surveyed across the country, only 11 had policies specifically addressing sexual assault.
With sexual assault mishandling cases cropping up more frequently than ever, Pye sees them a chance to learn from other schools’ mistakes.
“What tends to happen is the politics of the university come into play and everything gets lost,” she said. “What I think we need to do is look at these situations and say, as a university, our number one goal is to make sure that people are learning. And to learn, you need safety.”
Pye is seeking student consultation for the policy, putting together an inclusive task-force made up of students, staff and faculty for consultation as the project moves forward. To UNB’s credit, Pye said that the administration has been nothing but helpful, providing feedback as her policy reforms move though the bureaucracy.
In addition, UNB has spearheaded a series of programs designed to educate students about sexual assault, including the athlete-led active bystander intervention program, the Sexual Assault Response Team — a group made up of campus security, counsellors, and experts who focus on awareness, prevention and support — and a 24/7 sexual assault hotline for students.
But in order to change the culture of sexual assault that facilitates these crimes, Pye believes that everyone in the university community has to take responsibility.
“It’s about turning away from victim-blaming and saying it’s actually all of our problem,” she said.
“I don’t think universities have been able to willing to step up and do that yet. To take care of this problem, we need to have policies and procedures in place to do that. I think, luckily, because we’re seeing other schools doing it, we’re following suit and I think it’s going to have a really good impact.”