This article will be one of three outlining a community-based research project focusing mainly on sexual assault on campus. Unlike previous studies, this project will focus more on the aftermath versus the before of sexual assault. Sexual assault ranks in the top five violent crimes against women in Canada, and is extremely prevalent on university and college campuses. An estimated rate as high as 19 to 25 percent of students are experiencing or have experienced an assault, and only five percent of these victimizations are reported. There are a variety of reasons, or barriers, for not reporting. For instance, victims might not know what resources are available, if adequate resources not available, or confusion in regards to definitions of what sexual assault is. This may seem like something anyone would know, but there are actually multiple studies that show that universities couldn’t really agree on how to define sexual violence, leading to even more confusion for the victim to have to deal with.
For this project, the plan is to assess the resources available at Trent to see if they’re up to snuff, and if not, where they can be improved. It is also seeking to educate the Trent University community on the available resources and what everything means. This assessment is based on how well Trent is doing in regards to resource availability; checking services such as counselling and health services. This data was then compared to nine other Ontario universities (University of Toronto, Waterloo, York, Queen’s, Western, McMaster, Brock, Ryerson, and University of Ottawa) to see how Trent measures up. So far, the bulk of the research has focused on the universities’ websites to check how well they communicate the information on what resources are available on campus. This will be further investigated through interviews. The way I went about this was by literally picking through all of the sites for over five hours. And to be perfectly honest, it was a bit of a slog.
I found that, when looking for this information, you have to 1) know exactly what you’re looking for, and 2) know the buzzwords for what you’re looking for. I looked through the websites for all of the universities in Ontario, so I figured out pretty quickly what I was looking for on the sites, and where exactly it would be. However, none of this was completely intuitive. Some of the sites were great, having tags specifically for sexual assault and violence, even if it was under the ‘Services’ tag at the top of the site. These ones were very easy to navigate. Unfortunately, while some were wonderfully coherent, others were like searching for a needle in a haystack. Much of the information were under pages labelled for “Human Rights, Equity, and Inclusion”, which doesn’t help much if you’re looking for support on campus. Some of the sites had the information spread over multiple pages, and I spent a lot of time just tracking everything down. In my opinion, I think the schools should have a page dedicated entirely to this issue; a page where all of the information (i.e. helplines, services on campus) can be found in one place.
Overall, the websites looked good; many of them had extra links on their resource pages that allow you to cover your tracks, or had women’s only self defense classes available. They all followed the criteria outlined in Bill 132, which contains criteria such as mandatory sexual assault policies made available to the public, and outlines how frequently these policies must be reviewed. However, while I saw a lot of information about helplines, community resources, etc., there wasn’t a lot about on campus resources besides counselling and health services. I think the universities may rely too heavily on the helplines, and don’t have enough support that are easily accessible on campus. Some of these universities need to make it easier to find sexual assault resource information; there were multiple times where I had to sort through news articles that either mentioned the university in passing, or mentioned an assault that had occurred on the campus. The idea of communicating information on these resources should be that it is an easy and low-stress way for victims to help themselves, rather than a confusing and time-consuming process that will prevent them from wanting to seek out the resources.