Dalhousie University received a D+ in a recent evaluation of Canadian campus sexual violence policies. This points to several areas of the university’s policy in need of improvement to combat campus rape culture.
The evaluation released in October by Our Turn, a national student-led coalition against campus sexual violence, uses a comprehensive, research-based point system to grade campus policies. The average grade among 14 participating universities was a C-.
Contributing factors to Dalhousie’s poor grade is: the absence of a specific immunity clause for drug and alcohol use, a lack of protections prohibiting questions regarding a victim’s sexual history, and face-to-face encounters between the victim and the accused during the complaint process, and a 12-month time limit for filing complaints after an incident occurs (with an additional 12 months to be granted “in exceptional circumstances.”)
Three of the 14 assessed policies – including Dal’s – omit the term ‘rape culture,’ and none of the assessed policies contain any explicit clause on stealthing, which is non-consensual condom removal during intercourse and a form of sexual assault.
Our Turn chair, Caitlin Salvino, said she is hopeful the scorecard’s findings and the Our Turn action plan can be used by students to advocate for policy reformation and change the culture surrounding sexual violence on their campus.
“We developed a point system according to different criteria after reading 60 sexual violence policies across the country, summarizing them and really seeing and consulting students, survivors (and) various marginalized groups about what they needed,” said Salvino.
“We want to make sure that the rights and the protections that we included in our criminal justice system are also being included in our (campus) policies … There’s a very real risk that administrators who are not trained will ask questions that are prohibited by our criminal justice system and are absolutely inappropriate to survivors.”
The Our Turn action plan has been signed by 20 student unions in eight provinces across the country, including the Dalhousie Student Union.
“It really is a holistic program … to try and change the culture on campus and we’re just happy to help,” said Salvino. “I think that the DSU is really hopeful that with this support not just to criticize Dalhousie but to provide very real feedback … they take it into account while they’re making this new policy so that when they say they want it survivor-centred, it actually is.”
Dalhousie has been working on a new sexual assault policy since last year; however, no information on this policy was available in time for this article’s publication.
Outreach and education coordinator at South House, Rebecca Stuckey, said she feels Dalhousie’s D+ is representative of the university’s current policy and “how terrible it was.”
She pointed specifically to the clause on time constraints to identify the policy’s shortcomings.
“It definitely was not survivor-centric … Most folks won’t disclose or won’t come forward to disclose an incident right away; it takes time to be able to name that for themselves as well as to be able to share that with close friends or family before they’re coming forward to report,” said Stuckey. “That old policy wasn’t representative of those realities and how folks process that trauma and how they need supports and services in processing that trauma.”
She said the new survivor support centre, opened this fall by the DSU, improves campus services by helping students navigate Dalhousie’s administration-run supports and providing a support network that students used to have to seek out externally. She hopes the new policy will work towards making these supports even more accessible.
“Dal is set up in such a complex way that students and particularly new students or international students that are very new to the city, let alone the campus, aren’t sure where to go for these things,” said Stuckey. “Hopefully the new policy will streamline those things and make those processes more well-known to students.”