Should police always be called when a student reports a sex assault to a university or college?

August 9, 2017
Article Source
Hamilton Spectator

In a few weeks, thousands of Ontario university and college students will start their first full academic year since the province made it mandatory for post-secondary schools to have protocols in place for dealing with allegations of sexual assault.

That legislation was prompted by complex and sometimes fierce debate over the right to decide who knows about a sex-assault allegation, the schools' legal and ethical responsibilities to keep their communities safe and the fairness and adequacy of on-campus investigations.

Even now, with the new policies in place, that debate continues as sexual assault survivors say the guidelines for reporting, investigating and disciplining sexual assaults have fallen short, while critics insist campus officials are unqualified to take on the roles of police and the courts.

"It's a good start but it doesn't go far enough to guarantee anything that would really change the situation for survivors," said Tamsyn Riddle, a University of Toronto student who reported her alleged sexual assault to school officials in 2015 and thinks Ontario's legislation is too vague.

"U of T now has a new policy, but . . . it doesn't change anything in terms of guaranteeing that survivors will be taken seriously or that their cases will be dealt with quickly or that perpetrators will be punished."

Colleges and universities are required to have policies and offer training to staff, but the province does not specify what those policies are or what training should include.

A Star survey of a dozen large universities across Ontario found that the policies are generally similar in their language about reporting sexual assaults. Students who say they have been sexually assaulted are typically referred to a designated staff member or office, where they can choose to make a formal report.

Then, if the student wishes and/or the school officials deem it necessary, an investigation begins.

At universities surveyed by the Toronto Star, those investigations are typically performed by school administrators, external mediators, lawyers, human resource professionals or a combination of those. Decisions about discipline are most often handled by high-ranking university staff or student conduct committees.

Punishments for alleged student assailants can typically range from an apology to mandated training, to restrictions on where they can go on campus, to a full expulsion.

Read more: Should police always be called when a student reports a sex assault to a university or college?