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Changes to King's sexual assault policy may be on the way

Kim Kierans, the university’s vice-president, believes the policy at King’s can be better. It was adopted in 2012, and the conditions of the policy say it must be reviewed every two years throughout its first five years of operation.

Universities across Canada are updating their sexual assault policies, and King’s is one of them.
Kim Kierans, the university’s vice-president, believes the policy at King’s can be better. It was adopted in 2012, and the conditions of the policy say it must be reviewed every two years throughout its first five years of operation. Kierans says she’ll bring it to the King’s Governance Committee’s next meeting, asking them to set up a working group of faculty members, students and staff to review and improve the current procedure.

(Photo: sboneham via Flickr Creative Commons)

Kierans also acts as the school’s equity officer. She handles allegations of discrimination and harassment, including sexual harassment, on campus. She says the changes have to be made while understanding the uniqueness of the King’s community.
“You can’t paper a Dalhousie policy on us, or a SMU policy or whomever. It has to be right for all of us: students, staff and faculty,” she says.
The school’s code of conduct is in the Yellow Book, the go-to procedural handbook. It says sexual harassment is “unwelcome or inappropriate sexual attention or behaviour, which adversely affects the working or learning environment.”
The current policy doesn’t include criminal behavior like including stalking and sexual assault. However, a clause in the policy says King’s will give advice to anyone concerned about stalking or sexual assault.
Michaela Sam, the president of the King’s Students’ Union, will be one of the student representatives participating in the review process.
“It’s our hope that there’s enough student input to make sure we’re supporting our students in the best way possible,” says Sam. “Policies are important. They provide a resource for students to turn to and provide us with guidance so that we don’t get caught in grey areas.”
Sam believes that one of the things missing from King’s current policy is the possibility for students to make reports of harassment and assault anonymously.
“The Dalhousie Student Union is calling for anonymous reporting from their students. That’s something that needs to be available on every campus and on our campus, too,” she says.
Kierans has training from Avalon and Dalhousie counseling services. The mediation process varies on a case-to-case basis.
“If somebody has been sexually assaulted, I direct them to Avalon (Sexual Assault Centre) and counseling right away. I’ll ask them what they need to be safe talk about the police and charges, but Avalon normally covers that,” she says.
“I’ve never actually had to use the official complaint procedure. It’s all been done through informal mediation in my office.”
As dean of residence, Nick Hatt also deals with harassment and assault on campus. Every year, he and residence dons undergo a week and a half of training to ensure they run a successful residence program. In their training, the residence faculty learns how to respond to students in distress and approach incidents of sexual violence.
“Quite a number of years ago, Avalon worked with us to develop an internal residence protocol for what to do if a student comes to us who been sexually assaulted — how to support that student, how to work with them,” says Hatt. “It’s very much a trauma-informed response. Avalon also comes in and does training with us for a number of hours.”
Complaints can be made verbally or through a formal written process at King’s. From 2010 until 2012, Kierans said, no cases of discrimination or harassment were reported to the equity officer. Since she was appointed to the position in 2012, Kierans said, the number of cases she has seen has been on the rise.
In the 2012-13 academic year, one case of sexual harassment and assault was reported and resolved internally. In 2013-14, seven cases of sexual harassment were reported. Kierans mediated four of them. The other three complainants did not pursue resolution. Five complaints of sexual harassment and assault have been filed this academic year so far.
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It isn’t only students who approach Kierans with allegations of harassment and assault, she said.
“I’ve had dons in here and staff in here, because our policies cover everybody. We’re all held to the same standards. We all have the same protection,” she says. “I think it’s great that we’re talking about this so everyone on campus can know their rights and that there’s someone here to help them. There’s a system.”
As for the changes to the policy, Sam says it needs to be a part of a campus-wide discussion. Last year, the union held a panel on rape culture; last semester, a workshop on intoxication and consent; this semester, two workshops with Avalon.
The union has also supported the Canadian Federation of Students’ No Means No campaign since it began two decades ago. The campaign seeks to raise awareness and reduce the occurrence of sexual violence on campuses and in communities.
“We can’t just be responding to these events as they happen. We can’t just be putting the policies in place and saying that will solve these problems,” says Sam. “These are obviously systemic issues, and that needs to be a part of the conversation, too. Faculty, staff and our students are working to ensure that we are all responsible to one another, accountable to one another, and are making this place safe for one another.”

By David J. Shuman

David is the current editor-in-chief of The Watch and writes on student issues and events. Find him on Twitter: @DavidJShuman

One reply on “Changes to King's sexual assault policy may be on the way”

Great article, Caora and Madi! Thought I’d add what I think is a quick important distinction. Anonymous reporting is something that should be available FOR our students but certainly is not necessary FROM our students. It is imperative that survivors of sexual assault have any supports they need available to them but in no way should one feel propelled to pursue any one path, as though there is a standard formula because there isn’t. The conversation we need to be having is about ensuring that a multitude of resources and supports are available and always working to ensure that the needs and experiences of survivors are at the forefront of our work. And of course, in tandem we must discuss how to go about ending sexual assault on campus. Thanks again for the article.

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