Ontario colleges are taking action against sexual assault

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Originally appeared on the Huffington Post in February 2015.

Ensuring our campuses provide a safe and welcoming environment to all students is a priority for everyone at Ontario's public colleges. In cases where sexual assaults do occur, we want to ensure that immediate and effective help is available to victims. 

That is why college presidents voted last week to endorse a comprehensive, stand-alone Sexual Assault and Sexual Violence Policy and Protocol that will be publicized at each college by the end of March. 

The information will be easy to access and will be actively promoted at all colleges so that everyone's rights are clearly understood and victims get the support they need. 

Individual colleges and Colleges Ontario are currently consulting with student leaders and others to finalize the policy and protocol, which were developed by a task force that included senior college leaders, a student representative and legal experts. 

Building on existing policies and practices at the colleges, the materials will promote greater awareness at colleges and establish a clear protocol for responding to cases of sexual assault and violence. 

The materials also include information about protecting people's privacy and the steps that should be taken if someone witnesses a sexual assault or has learned about a sexual assault. 

Presidents across the sector have taken the policy and protocol back to their individual colleges to consult on finalizing the documents. Student leaders, government officials, the Ontario Women's Directorate, OPSEU and others will have input and the feedback will be incorporated into the finalized materials. 

Government has a role to play, as well. The colleges have made proposals that might help inform the Wynne government's action plan on sexual assault that will be developed by March 8, which is International Women's Day. 

For example, we're recommending the provincial government take steps to ensure that victims throughout the province have immediate access to 24-hour emergency hotline services. 

The provincial government is also being asked to consider regulatory changes that could allow colleges and the police to share more information in certain circumstances. 

While the consultations are ongoing on campuses across the province, the college system task force on sexual violence and sexual assault will turn its attention to a system-wide plan for increasing awareness, education, prevention and communication. 

This is not a simple exercise to fill in a few gaps. This is a multi-faceted approach to ensure there is a unified and clear understanding that safety is a paramount priority at Ontario's colleges. 

There is a fundamental belief throughout our college system that this is our responsibility. Our students deserve no less. 

Linda Franklin

Linda Franklin is the past president and CEO of Colleges Ontario, the advocacy association for Ontario’s 24 colleges.