Stu­dents speak out

St. FX’s han­dling of re­ported sex­ual as­sault a con­cern

Cape Breton Post - - Province -

Stu­dents at St. Fran­cis Xavier Uni­ver­sity are speak­ing out in re­sponse to the school’s han­dling of a re­ported case of cam­pus rape, call­ing for a re­view of its sex­ual vi­o­lence pol­icy to en­sure a “sur­vivor-cen­tric’’ ap­proach.

Nearly 100 peo­ple at­tended an or­ga­niz­ing meet­ing Wed­nes­day night, with more dis­cus­sions planned Thurs­day on how to take more ag­gres­sive ac­tion against cam­pus sex­ual as­sault.

St. FX Stu­dent Union pres­i­dent Re­becca Me­say says she’s wit­nessed a range of emo­tions among the stu­dent body from “anger to sad­ness to fear.’’

She says stu­dents want to see change and the stu­dent union will be tak­ing steps to ad­dress sex­u­al­ized vi­o­lence on the Antigo­nish cam­pus, in­clud­ing the creation of a work­ing group.

The re­sponse comes af­ter The Cana­dian Press re­vealed a Toronto-area woman’s ex­pe­ri­ence re­port­ing an al­leged sex­ual as­sault to the uni­ver­sity.

Al­though the school swiftly launched an in­ves­ti­ga­tion af­ter the woman came for­ward and found the ac­cused re­spon­si­ble, it qui­etly set aside its de­ci­sion to sus­pend him for the next aca­demic year — with­out no­ti­fy­ing her — when he ap­pealed.

The woman, whose name is un­der a pub­li­ca­tion ban, was dev­as­tated to dis­cover him on cam­pus last month and has since left the uni­ver­sity.

The sit­u­a­tion has drawn at­ten­tion to how post-se­condary in­sti­tu­tions han­dle sex­ual as­sault al­le­ga­tions, and whether poli­cies aimed at tack­ling sex­ual vi­o­lence go far enough.

In an email to the cam­pus com­mu­nity this week, St. FX’s head of stu­dent ser­vices ac­knowl­edged there was a “com­mu­ni­ca­tion gap’’ be­tween the stu­dent life of­fice and the vic­tim.

But An­drew Beck­ett said the uni­ver­sity has a sys­tem that “strives to up­hold both the vic­tim’s and the re­spon­dent’s rights to due process.’’

In a state­ment Thurs­day, he added that typ­i­cally a re­spon­dent — some­one ac­cused of mis­con­duct — is ad­vised not to give any state­ments to the uni­ver­sity for the dis­ci­pline process when crim­i­nal pro­ceed­ings are on­go­ing.

“The uni­ver­sity may con­tinue with­out the re­spon­dent’s par­tic­i­pa­tion but to make any de­ter­mi­na­tion with­out their par­tic­i­pa­tion would be a vi­o­la­tion of the re­spon­dent’s right to a fair process,’’ said Beck­ett, the school’s vice-pres­i­dent of fi­nance and ad­min­is­tra­tion.

Karen Busby, a law pro­fes­sor at the Uni­ver­sity of Man­i­toba, said de­spite claims to the con­trary, many uni­ver­sity sex­ual vi­o­lence poli­cies tend to em­pha­size the re­spon­dent’s rights and are nei­ther com­plainant-cen­tred nor trauma-in­formed.

“The way many poli­cies are writ­ten, com­plainants have no pro­ce­dural fair­ness rights,’’ said Busby, di­rec­tor of the Cen­tre for Hu­man Rights Re­search.

For ex­am­ple, by putting its se­nate ap­peal process on hold and lift­ing the ac­cused’s sus­pen­sion, she said St. FX of­fi­cials have taken the po­si­tion they can’t do much while an ap­peal is pend­ing.

In con­trast, Busby pointed to Dal­housie Uni­ver­sity’s sex­u­al­ized vi­o­lence pol­icy, which says in­terim mea­sures may in­clude “pro­hibit­ing the re­spon­dent from be­ing on some or all of the uni­ver­sity premises.’’

Rather than take a nar­row view of com­mu­nity safety, she said this pri­or­i­tizes health and safety con­cerns that “don’t change just be­cause there is an ap­peal.’’

But St. FX has said it must main­tain the ac­cused’s ac­cess to ed­u­ca­tion while the ap­peal is pend­ing.

“The bot­tom line is ei­ther he’s go­ing or she’s go­ing,’’ Busby said. “If he’s the stu­dent that has been found to have done wrong it seems to me that he should be the one that is leav­ing.’’

Nova Sco­tia’s ad­vanced ed­u­ca­tion min­is­ter, Labi Kousoulis, has said he was “shocked’’ by the uni­ver­sity’s han­dling of the case, say­ing he’s asked his de­part­ment to ex­plore op­tions to sus­pend stu­dents ac­cused of sex­ual vi­o­lence pend­ing a le­gal out­come.

CP PHOTO

A sign marks one of the en­trances to the St. Fran­cis Xavier Uni­ver­sity cam­pus in Antigo­nish on Sept. 28.

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