UMSU discusses new sexual violence prevention policies

The University of Manitoba Students’ Union (UMSU) presented several proposed changes to sexual violence prevention policies at the Feb. 11 board meeting.

These changes are prompted by recommendations in the Path Forward report, which aims to review potential actions that the university can take to combat sexual violence on campus. 

Three of the report’s recommendations concerned the suggested banning of any intimate relationships between students and academic staff.

UMSU vice-president advocacy Kristin Smith serves on an advisory committee assigned to develop mechanisms and a draft policy regarding intimate relationships between academic staff and students.

The advisory committee has requested a legal review from a third party to determine if the university has the authority to impose such a ban.

The committee has also debated whether it should endorse a ban or the requirement of both parties to disclose the relationship to the university administration.

“Right now, the university committee looking at implementing this potential ban on intimate relationships has not developed any sort of draft policy yet,” Smith said. 

“It’s very much in the brainstorming phase.”

Smith plans to consult the Policy Review Working Group, which deals with changes in university policy, in order to inform the advisory committee’s draft policy.

A committee was also formed to discuss the proposed policy of mandatory disclosure of sexual assault claims. 

This policy would require all staff and faculty to report any incident of sexual violence disclosed to them by a student to the university administration.

This policy was intended to track occurrences of sexual assault on campus, including names of perpetrators and frequency of incidents.

However, Savannah Szocs, vice-president student life and UMSU’s representative on the sexual violence steering committee and a related working group, pointed out flaws in this approach.

“The idea of mandatory disclosures completely goes against everything that is survivor-centred,” Szocs said at the latest UMSU meeting. 

“It involves reporting and sharing the survivor’s story without their consent, not to mention the fact that they likely trusted that staff or faculty member and now they’ll feel even more isolated.”

Szocs drew attention to the fact that coming forward is difficult for survivors and argued that it is vital to maintain confidentiality as long as no laws are violated and no one is at risk.

She expressed concern that this measure would “obliterate the amount of disclosures made by survivors on campus,” explaining that if survivors are not allowed to maintain their privacy and control over their story, they may not feel comfortable disclosing the incident to anyone associated with the university.

“The entire idea that surrounds creating a culture of consent on campus is about giving power and control back to survivors,” Szocs said.

“They’ve had that control taken away from them. We want to give them all of the control and all of the choices and options and resources [that] we can.”