A student walks towards the main entrance of Yukon College in Whitehorse on Sept. 7. The college will, for the first time, be collecting annual statistics about incidents of sexualized violence on campus. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)

Yukon College’s new sexualized violence policy includes collecting statistics

This will be the first time the school will gather figures specific to the issue

Understanding the scale of a problem can go hand-in-hand with prevention. That’s why Yukon College will, for the first time, collect annual statistics about incidents of sexualized violence on campus.

“Like any data we collect, it’s about the decisions that we’ll make over time,” said Michael Hale, chief administration officer. “It’s tracking the environment. Are we doing enough to ensure the safety of our students and our staff?”

The move is part of a new sexualized violence policy that was passed over the summer and rolled out in time for the arrival of students this fall.

“We really want to counter rape culture and promote a culture of informed consent,” said Colleen Wirth, director of student infrastructure support.

Sexualized violence, the new policy says, is defined as “any sexual act or act targeting an individual’s sexuality, gender identity or gender expression, whether the act is physical or psychological in nature, that is committed or threatened or attempted against an individual without that individual’s consent.”

This may include sexual assault, but also stalking, transmitting intimate pictures, or inducing intoxication, it says.

The college has collected statistics for occupational health and safety requirements, but, when it comes to numbers specific to sexualized violence, the figures aren’t there.

If someone were to report an incident, identities would be kept confidential, Wirth said.

Having these statistics will be important across the territory, said Jess Stone, program coordinator at Victoria Faulkner Women’s Centre, noting that it’s difficult to find ones that are Yukon-specific.

“A lot of the times when people conduct research they’re looking at the North as a whole, so it’s really hard to make moves in prevention when we don’t know what we’re dealing with specifically in our own community,” she said. “It strengthens prevention methods, and gives the college the chance to look at their own systemic issues.”

Over the years, the women’s centre has assisted the college by conducting workshops about consent.

Before the new policy was implemented, a harassment policy was, and continues to be, in place at the college. The original policy was created in 1998 and revised in 2009. Included in the document is sexual harassment and physical assault. Complaints filed to the Director of Human Resources can, if requested, spur an investigation at the college level.

The new policy goes much further.

“The reality of our growing attention to the need to have a standalone sexualized violence policy has become really evident just as our country has emerged into the importance of allowing people to know who to go to and what to do when sexualized violence happen,” Wirth said. “It’s about creating that culture of knowing what it means to consent.”

What inspired the development is the national conversation that’s been building over the last three years, Hale said, adding that the Yukon College — post-secondary institutions in general — are adapting to societal changes.

Wirth said national statistics show 20 per cent of female post-secondary students experience sexualized violence.

“On an average year at Yukon College that would mean approximately 145 students,” she said.

This number is not absolute, she said, as many incidents go unreported.

In 2014, about 261,000 incidents of sexual assault were reported by students across Canada, according to Statistics Canada’s general social survey — 41 per cent of all incidents of this nature. Women were the majority of victims (90 per cent). The research contained in this report is specific to self-reported sexual assault.

Part of Yukon College’s policy will help crystallize how to lodge a report, both with the RCMP and the school. There’s also an off-campus reporting option, at Kaushee’s Place, which offers transitional housing for women.

Whether an investigation is initiated, however, is at the discretion of the victim.

Using a trauma-informed approach, the policy will seek to ensure that survivors are protected from being ostracized and/or re-victimized.

“At every step along the way we’re supporting them to do what they want to do,” Wirth said.

Hale echoed this statement.

“It’s about empowerment as much as it is about process,” he said.

Contact Julien Gignac at julien.gignac@yukon-news.com

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