Ontario Coalition of Rape Crisis Centres responds to the Student Voices on Sexual Violence Survey findings

Sexual violence can happen anywhere. Yet colleges and universities in Canada are home to those who are at the highest statistical risk of experiencing sexual violence: young women between the ages of 15 and 25 years[1].

In this, it makes sense that campus administration, social service providers and campus police come together to consider ways to address sexual violence on campuses. Community, campus staff and stakeholders ought to be asking: What measures are our post-secondary institutions undertaking to prevent and reduce sexual violence on campuses? What concerns are students facing at post-secondary campuses? What help is available to support those affected by sexual violence?

The Student Voices on Sexual Violence Survey was conducted in Ontario to gather information about how student respondents perceive, understand and respond to sexual violence. It also gathered information about students’ level of satisfaction with their institution’s sexual violence supports and services, if they experienced sexual violence and disclosed their experience to staff or faculty at the institution. More than 160,000 students across Ontario participated in this voluntary survey: 26.5% of university students, 16.3% of college students, and 9.3% of private career college students submitted surveys[2].

Ontario Coalition of Rape Crisis Centres (OCRCC) is a network of community-based sexual assault centres in Ontario. Community-based sexual assault centres have been believing and supporting survivors in Ontario for more than 40 years. Services include counselling to survivors of recent and historical sexual violence, accompaniment to hospital, police and court, advocacy and crisis support. In one year alone, Ontario’s sexual assault centres responded to over 50,000 crisis line calls. Comprehensive community awareness and public education programs on sexual violence, prevention of sexual violence, responding to sexual assault disclosures training, are offered by sexual assault centres in Ontario communities. In many communities, sexual assault centres work closely with their local colleges and universities to prevent sexual violence, provide education and information, and spread the word on supports available – both on-campus and off-campus – to those who have experienced sexual violence.

Despite this, we noted with concern that in the Student Voices on Sexual Violence Survey, 59.7% of university respondents, 48% of college student respondents and 28.9% of Private Career College respondents disagreed or strongly disagreed that they were aware of sexual violence supports, services and reporting procedures available to them.

Real progress has been made concerning sexual violence prevention and response on Ontario post-secondary campuses in recent years. Just a few years ago, a Toronto Star investigation revealed just nine of 78 public universities across Canada and no colleges in Ontario had special policies to deal with sexual assault[3]. But in 2016, the Ontario government mandated post-secondary campuses to have clear sexual violence policies at their institutions—paving the way for real, systemic change. Today, all institutions have a sexual violence response policy. But a policy is just one part of change.

The Student Voices on Sexual Violence Survey – and Ontario campus’ responses to the Survey results – can be a part of this change too. Across the country, there are amazing individuals and organizations working to end sexual violence. Moving forward, OCRCC recommends the following, based on our experiences and what we heard in the Survey:

  • Campuses must continue to meaningfully engage with their community partners. Community-based sexual assault centres have been working to prevent and respond to sexual violence for decades, and have a wealth of expertise[4]. Campuses, students and community organizations have much to gain in working together to end sexual violence.
  • While some students will access sexual violence supports on campus, others will not wish to do so. Offering student information and referrals to community-based supports, such as Ontario sexual assault centres, is one way to forge strong relationships with sexual violence organizations in local communities. Services offered, including crisis lines and counselling, will also foster increased access to supports for students who have experienced sexual assault.
  • While it is important that survivors of sexual violence have access to the legal system, many choose to forgo these systems and only wish to be believed and find healing supports.  In this, survivors also need alternatives to police reporting and the justice system. Alternatives can mean things like: the ability to disclose to a campus or counselling staff and receive a confidential, supportive response; the ability to talk about what happened and its impacts in a safe setting; access to information about sexual violence that does not blame or query the victim on her behaviors before or after the assault; and supportive accommodation of student life, life on campus and academic goals.
  • Campuses can foster sexual violence prevention. Administrations need to place a year-round emphasis (not just welcome week) on addressing the campus culture that allows sexual violence to happen. They must invest in strong public education that focuses on engaging the campus community in ending sexual violence, which community sexual assault centres can provide. Bystander campaigns such as the Draw the Line campaign help to foster both an understanding of consent and support bystanders with information on how to intervene in situations where sexual violence can occur. The Enhanced Assess, Acknowledge, Act Sexual Assault Resistance Education (EAAA) program is a 12 hour small-group, empirically based intervention designed specifically for 1st year university women[5].  Both of the above programs are endorsed by OCRCC.
  • Campus initiatives to address sexual violence must include senior administration. Any projects, committees or initiatives must include committed and active members of the senior administration, who have the authority to create real change on campus[6].
  • Campuses must continue to name the problem. Like anywhere in Ontario, sexual violence can only be eliminated if it is named. Communications departments, public relations offices and/or marketing teams must make the brave choice to be transparent about sexual violence and the work being done on campus to address it[7]. Many, we know, are already doing this well.

OCRCC and post-secondary institutions share many of the same priorities. We are well aware that sexual violence has a significant impact on students in our communities. We also applaud colleges and universities efforts thus far —particularly, in the wake of recent high-profile incidences of sexual violence allegations and a deepening public awareness of these issues in Ontario.

Our appreciations, too, to those students and sexual violence survivors that participated in the Student Voices on Sexual Violence Survey. It takes great courage to share one’s experiences – and to hope for change.

It is our commitment to you to continue to advocate for change. We look forward to working alongside our campus allies to better respond to sexual violence in these spaces across Ontario.

Media Contact:

Nicole Pietsch, Coordinator

Ontario Coalition of Rape Crisis Centres (OCRCC)
Tel: 905-299-4428

Web: www.sexualassaultsupport.ca;

Campaign: www.draw-the-line.ca

Ontario Coalition of Rape Crisis Centres (OCRCC) is a network of community-based sexual assault centres in Ontario. Member centres have been supporting survivors of sexual violence and offering prevention education since 1977: services include counselling to survivors of recent and historical sexual violence, accompaniment to hospital, police and court, advocacy and crisis support.

If you or someone you know has experienced sexual violence, go to https://sexualassaultsupport.ca/support/.  


[1] Canadian Women’s Foundation, 2012, as cited in An Exploratory Study Of Women’s Safety At The University Of Toronto Mississauga: A Gender-Based Analysis by  Paula DeCoito Ph.D.  Social Planning Council of Peel. July 2013, 19.

[2] Government of Ontario. March 19, 2019. Student Voices on Sexual Violence: summary report of the postsecondary student survey conducted in 2018. Online: https://www.ontario.ca/page/student-voices-sexual-violence

[3] The Star. January 14, 2015. Ontario student group pushes Kathleen Wynne for sexual assault policies. Online: http://www.thestar.com/news/queenspark/2015/01/14/ontario-student-group-pushes-kathleen-wynne-for-sexual-assault-policies.html

[4] For more on this, see: University of Ottawa Task Force on Respect and Equality. From Reacting to Preventing: Addressing Sexual Violence on Campus by Engaging Community Partners. A report prepared by Julie S. Lalonde for the University of Ottawa Task Force on Respect and Equality. December 2014: 17. Online: https://www.uottawa.ca/president/sites/www.uottawa.ca.president/files/task-force-report-appendix-1-from-reacting-to-preventing.pdf  

[5] Learn more here: http://www.vawlearningnetwork.ca/feminist-eaaa-sexual-assault-resistance-program-young-women-university

[6] For more on this, see: University of Ottawa Task Force on Respect and Equality. From Reacting to Preventing: Addressing Sexual Violence on Campus by Engaging Community Partners. A report prepared by Julie S. Lalonde for the University of Ottawa Task Force on Respect and Equality. December 2014: 17. Online: https://www.uottawa.ca/president/sites/www.uottawa.ca.president/files/task-force-report-appendix-1-from-reacting-to-preventing.pdf  

[7] Ibid  

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