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OPEN LETTER: Liberals’ response to sexualized violence on campus lacking

Nova Scotia’s students deserve the highest form of protection: the law. Nova Scotia has consistently sparked a national dialogue about campus rape culture, but we are shamefully lagging behind when it comes to taking action to protect students.
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Students walk in front of the main administration building at Dalhousie University. Researchers report that one in five women experiences sexual assault while attending a post-secondary institution, writes Charlotte Kiddell. (TED PRITCHARD / Local Xpress / File)

From CHARLOTTE KIDDELL

To the Hon. Kelly Regan, Minister of Labour and Advanced Education:

The need for meaningful action to combat sexualized violence on university and college campuses has never been more evident.

In the past few years, Nova Scotia has been witness to multiple incidences of highly publicized examples of sexualized and gender-based violence. While public events such as the Saint Mary’s University rape chants and Dalhousie Dentistry “Gentlemen’s Club” sparked widespread national dialogue, they were not isolated incidents. Students know that rape culture has always permeated our campuses, and that sexualized violence continues to be a harsh reality for students across the province.

Researchers report that one in five women experiences sexual assault while attending a post-secondary institution, with people with disabilities, trans,indigenous and racialized people disproportionately affected. In reality, the prevalence is much higher: the majority of sexual assaults on campus go unreported because students fear they will not be believed or supported by their institutions.

Students have been at the forefront of the fight to end sexualized and gender-based violence for decades. In 2015, Nova Scotia’s students presented the government with a report titled Working Towards Consent Culture: Developing a Plan to Combat Sexual Violence on Campuses in Nova Scotia. The document recommends provincial legislation to combat sexualized violence on campus with dedicated survivor support funds and services, mandatory institutional sexual assault policies and standardized data collection and public reporting on instances of sexual assault.

Students have garnered widespread support for legislation from community groups and leaders. The New Democratic and Progressive Conservative parties have introduced the Safer Colleges and Universities Act and the Sexual Violence Action Plan Act, respectively, in an attempt to realize such legislation. Similar legislation has already been passed in Ontario, Manitoba and British Columbia.

By contrast, the Nova Scotia Liberals have backtracked on their commitment to students’ safety, blocked proposed bills, and failed to protect survivors of sexualized violence. The Liberals have opted to address the issue of sexualized violence on campus in a memorandum of understanding (MOU), a non-binding document that offers no recourse to students should universities violate its terms.

The MOU only commits universities to adopting stand-alone sexual assault policies; it does not commit the dedicated funding for survivor supports, and data collection and reporting that students are calling for. The limited language in the MOU is brief and vague. If offers no clear guidelines for policy development and student engagement, leaving institutions scrambling to develop policy and students clambering to hold administrators accountable.

Nova Scotia’s students deserve the highest form of protection: the law. Nova Scotia has consistently sparked a national dialogue about campus rape culture, but we are shamefully lagging behind when it comes to taking action to protect students. We, survivors, students, community organizers and allies urge the Liberal government to immediately pass legislation recommended by students to combat sexualized violence on campus.

Charlotte Kiddell is chairperson of the Canadian Federation of Students-Nova Scotia. This letter was signed by over 600 students, allies and community organizations from across the province.



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