One in five women studying in North American post-secondary institutions experiences some form of sexualized violence over the course of her studies. An estimated four out of five women who have experienced sexual assault do not report out of fear of being re-victimized in the legal process.
Universities and colleges are in a unique position to play a role in preventing sexualized violence, but thus far have consistently failed to protect their students. Instances such as the rape chants at St. Mary's University, the management of the Dalhousie Dentistry incidents, and the lack of sexual assault policies demonstrate institutions' refusal to invest in safer campuses. The provincial government has a role to play in challenging rape culture, protecting students, and supporting survivors. Provincial legislation mandating on-campus sexual assault policies, dedicated funding for survivor supports, and data collection and reporting already exist in British Columbia, Manitoba and Ontario.
We asked all major parties if they support the implementation of provincial legislation to combat sexualized violence on campus. Here’s what they had to say:
We are reassured to see that both the NDP and PCs have committed to take action against sexualized violence on campus by implementing legislation. Although the PCs response quoted above does not mention legislation, we’ve since confirmed this commitment. Before the election was called, both parties tabled legislation that met students’ recommendations. The Liberal party’s response, however, is inadequate to address this urgent and pervasive issue.
The Liberals propose to address sexualized violence on campuses in the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU), a non-binding document that offers no recourse to students should universities violate its terms. In the past, government staff have colloquially referred to the MOU as “gentlemen’s agreements”, and confirmed that it does not allow government to hold universities accountable. Furthermore, the MOU only mandates universities to adopt stand-alone sexual assault policies; it does not mandate the dedicated funding for survivor supports, and data collection and reporting that students support. The limited language in the MOU is brief and vague, with minimal guidance as to how sexual assault policies should be developed or who should be involved in the process.
Nova Scotia’s students deserve the highest form of protection: the law. Legislation to combat sexualized violence on campus is an important step towards ending sexualized violence and building consent culture on campus. In a provincial election period, it’s disappointing not to find all party support for the protection of Nova Scotia’s students.