Guest Editorial: Sexual assault – It’s never okay

betty and wynne

As the TCSA Women’s Commissioner and CFS delegate on March 6, 2015, I was invited to the launch of Ontario Premier Wynne’s $41 million three-year action plan to combat sexual assault.

The 13-point action plan aims to tackle workplace harassment, the prosecution of sexual assault cases, the limitation period for civil sexual assault claims and victim support and assaults on university campuses.

For several years now, discussions and talks that aim to tackle sexual assault and create safer spaces for students and members of the community have taken place.

However, such discussions were always lacking in active change, of course taking into account the climactic changes and challenges each year brings with it. Sexual assault has always existed and has endangered the safety of students on our campuses and the community at large.

Nonetheless, it always seems to create shock when we are confronted with cases, especially those involving public figures or those that receive media attention. This is despite statistics that indicate sexual assault occurs very often—if not on a daily basis. It is a “scourge that plagues every part of our society”.

For example, one in every three female students experiences sexual violence on university/college campuses.

Prior to the announcement, I was able to be a part of the student plenary session with the Premier on addressing sexual assault on campuses. A collective concern voiced by the delegates was the lack of fiscal resources available towards combating sexual assault.

Stabilized and increased funding is stipulated in the action plan, which is indicative of student voice representation, and a model that is student/survivor centric. It is a huge victory for students and the community at large.

Although I believe that the action plan represents a huge leap forward, it will not be successful on its own. Ending sexual assault requires a cultural shift, one that values ideals of consent, ends victim blaming, promotes gender equality and denigrates rape culture and misogyny in every form (language, actions).

The 13-point Action Plan:

  1. Legislation to strengthen provisions related to sexual violence and harassment in workplace, on campus, housing and through civil courts
  2. Launch public education and awareness campaign
  3. Develop tools/best practices to support compassionate response by law enforcement authorities
  4. Develop enhanced prosecution model to improve survivors’ experience in criminal justice system
  5. Update Health and Physical Education curriculum to address health relationships and consent
  6. Introduce legislation to mandate colleges and universities to adopt sexual violence policies
  7. Strengthen supports for hospital-based sexual and domestic violence treatment centres
  8. Up-to-date training for health, community, education and justice sectors
  9. Stabilize and increase funding for community-based sexual assault centres
  10. Pilot program for free legal advice to sex assault survivors going to court
  11. Permanent roundtable for issues of violence against women
  12. Enhance workplace laws for employers to develop stronger sexual harassment policies
  13. Launch fund for Ontario artists to develop projects on “consent, rape culture and gender inequality”