Starting this week, Ontario university students will start receiving an email from their university inviting them to complete a survey about their experiences with sexual violence, in what is believed to be the first campus climate survey of its kind in Canada.
These full-time undergraduate students and full- and-part-time graduate students will be among more than 650,000 students at the province’s colleges and universities encouraged to provide information that will result in a clearer understanding of sexual violence on campuses – violence that includes sexual assault, sexual harassment, stalking, indecent exposure, voyeurism and sexual exploitation.
The 20-minute survey was developed in consultation with students and administered by CCI Research Inc., on behalf of Ontario’s Ministry of Advanced Education and Skills Development, and will ask about sexual violence supports, services and reporting processes at campuses, as well as perceptions of consent and the experiences of survivors of sexual violence.
It is voluntary, and confidential, and students can complete as much, as little – or none – of the survey as they feel comfortable doing. Names, student IDs and email addresses will never be saved with survey responses, and results will always be reported in a way that preserves confidentiality. More information about the survey is available at www.info-sv-vs.ca, where contacts and information about support services can also be found for each institution.
We know that sexual violence is a societal problem that doesn’t only exist on college and university campuses, and that a whole-of-community response is needed for this whole-of-community problem.
Nonetheless, universities have already been taking steps to address sexual violence, including stand-alone policies at every institution, 24-7 help on- and off-campuses, awareness-building, education, and more.
But research shows that sexual violence is under-reported, and understanding the extent and nature of the problem will help postsecondary institutions address sexual violence through improvements to their awareness programs, supports and services.
Some of the questions the survey will be asking are sensitive, and could provoke strong reactions or trigger memories among survivors. Students will find a link on every page of the survey directing them to supports available to them.
Later this year, postsecondary institutions will be working with the Ontario government to analyze the data and interpret it in a meaningful way. A provincial report will be made available to the public in the interest of transparency; postsecondary institutions understand that it is only by putting a spotlight on the problem that it can be addressed, and survivors provided the supports they need.
Sandy Welsh, member of the Council of Ontario Universities’ Reference Group on Sexual Violence and Vice-Provost Students, University of Toronto
David Lindsay, President and CEO of the Council of Ontario Universities