New support for sexual violence survivors on campus

Farrah Khan joined Ryerson as the co-ordinator of the Office of Sexual Violence Support and Education.

Farrah Khan joined Ryerson as the co-ordinator of the Office of Sexual Violence Support and Education.

The first thing Farrah Khan says to survivors of sexual violence is: “It’s OK. I believe you.”

Khan joined Ryerson as the co-ordinator of sexual violence support and education in October. The new Office of Sexual Violence Support and Education (OSVSE) provides one-on-one support for students, faculty and staff.

Khan has been involved in the movement against sexual violence for 16 years. She began with the Metropolitan Action Committee (METRAC), working with a peer-based group called ReAct that creates resources and workshops for youth. Most recently, she worked with the Barbra Schlifer Commemorative Clinic where she counselled sexual violence survivors.

Khan’s goal is to make Ryerson a survivor centric campus that doesn’t just work to find the perpetrator or strictly run prevention campaigns. Instead, she said, it’s important to be a “trauma informed campus.”

“We want survivors to feel like they can come to university, they know the proper channels to which they can disclose (information) and that they also feel like they have the right to be here,” she said.

The office will house three committees that will discuss different aspects of sexual violence on campus: the survivors of sexual violence committee, the Ryerson community committee and the education committee. Each committee will discuss aspects of Sexual Violence relating to the current policy, emerging issues in the Ryerson community and awareness of how to report assaults.

From November 2014 to November 2015, 30 per cent of crimes reported to campus security were sexual based crimes of assault and/or harassment. Of the reported cases, only a quarter resulted in assailants being caught and arrested. These crimes include indecent exposure, stalking, voyeurism, sexual harassment and sexual assault.

Across Canada, only five per cent of sexual assaults were reported to police in 2014, according to Statistics Canada’s Victimization survey.

A Toronto Star investigation revealed that many Ontario universities, including Ryerson, lack a comprehensive policy surrounding sexual violence.

To address this, the board of directors introduced a new sexual violence policy in June 2015 after a comprehensive review of the university’s existing policies.  The review found that the only time sexual violence was explicitly named was in the discrimination and harassment policy. The review recommended a detailed policy be made that would outline definitions, survivor support and education, among many others.

The new policy covers the parameters of consent, stating, “Consent is active, not passive or silent,” as well as survivor support, pointing members of the Ryerson community towards the OSVSE. The policy will be reviewed every three years with student involvement, in accordance with the Sexual Violence and Harassment Action Plan, Bill 132. It is currently being considered by the legislative assembly of Ontario.

The bill requires every college and university in Ontario to have its own stand-alone sexual violence policy. The policy must address reporting sexual violence on campus as well as specific regulations.

“It doesn’t matter what you wear, it doesn’t matter who you were with,” said Khan. “It doesn’t matter if you were in a five year relationship or just met them on Tinder. It’s sexual violence if you say it is.”

This article was published in the print edition of the Ryersonian on Feb. 3, 2016.

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