September 30, 2023

The topic of sexual assault can often be difficult to address, considering its sensitivity. However, Ontario colleges haven’t shied away from it. In fact, they are implementing a new policy in colleges provincewide, which clearly outline resources to assist victims of sexual assault.

All 24 publicly-funded Ontario colleges, including Conestoga, will be subject to this new, 14-page policy that aims to refine systems that are currently in place to assist victims of sexual assault.

Ontario colleges have had policies, but nearly every one of them has one pitfall or another in regards to ease-of-access. The new policy sets out to provide victims with a clear assessment of their available options and an upfront explanation of which path they should take given their circumstances.

Conestoga is among the few colleges that have some major policies already in place to protect students and staff. The Student Code of Conduct and the human rights policy both provide pathways for students to report incidents, and also outline the strict rules surrounding any levels of harassment and assault. Even with these in effect, however, there has not been a policy dedicated specifically to sexual assault.

“I think it is a good thing that we are getting even more refined, and having a more specific sexual assault policy,” said Shawna Bernard, a counsellor at Conestoga. “And I also think that it is a good thing that (the policy) is going to be posted on the school website at the end of March.”

Bernard, who, like others at the college, received a copy of the policy’s rough framework recently, said the policy and the information therein will be available on March 31 for students and staff alike to view freely on Conestoga’s website.

Specific information from the policy could not be shared by anyone involved in its creation, nor by faculty and staff as the plan has not been finalized.

According to a Feb. 2 article in the Hamilton Spectator, “The … policy includes definitions, points of contact, promises of support and academic accommodations and responsibilities for staff.”

What is most certain to come from this, however, is that at every college, not just Conestoga, it will be significantly easier for victims to get the help that they need in an easily communicated and convenient manner.

As it stands, there are multiple support services currently available at Conestoga for anyone who may be a victim of sexual assault. Security Services, Counselling Services, and Health Services are all gateways to seeking help.

“We would like Counselling Services to be the main point of contact,” Bernard said.

Additionally, Security Services offers a free mobile app called Conestoga Mobile Safety that allows students to contact Security Services instantly. There are also local support gateways in the Kitchener area, such as St. Mary’s General Hospital, that offer counselling and treatment for victims.

“What I think this policy will do is just create more awareness, more education and more direct information so that if this happens to you, it is (clear that it is) not OK, that it is not your fault, and that there is help available,” Bernard said.

Even following the implementation of this new policy, the support systems will still be the same as they are now.

If you are a victim of sexual assault, you are encouraged to seek help from whichever department or venue you feel is best suited. The reality of the crime is that it takes away power and security from victims, and this policy’s creation hopes to make it much easier to gain that power back.

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