Bishop’s University in Sherbrooke, Que., adopts online platform for reporting sexual violence
In an effort to address sexual violence on campus, Bishop’s University in Sherbrooke, Que., has introduced an online platform that will allow students, faculty and staff to report their experiences with sexual violence.
The bilingual platform will allow people to report sexual harassment, misconduct and assault without having to speak directly with a member of the university.
It’s taken a year and a half to get the program running, said Georgia Lapierre, one of the co-chairs of the student-led sexual culture committee at Bishop’s that brought forward the idea.
“We wanted to remove the barriers to survivors reporting,” Lapierre said. “We had heard from a lot of students that they didn’t feel comfortable reporting at the university and talking with someone, but still wanted people to hear their stories and wanted action to be taken.”
The university has faced criticisms over its handling of sexual violence on campus, with the administration calling an emergency town hall in November after the words “He raped me. I reported. He’s still in my class. BU take action,” were plastered on a bridge near the school.
The platform will also allow people to reach out to the university’s sexual aggression response office, which offers support services and references to other external resources. Students can bring forward formal complaints through the office as well.
“A student can go in and create their own account of what happened, and they take full charge of what happens at that point. They decide when and if to share it with us, and they can do that from the comfort of their home,” said Stine Linden-Andersen, the dean of student affairs.
The platform — Respect, Educate, Empower Survivors (REES) — will be able to track if multiple complaints are submitted involving the same person.
The university will then be able to use that information to carry out risk assessments and change protocols on campus to ensure people’s safety, Linden-Andersen said.
People will also be able to submit anonymous reports withholding their identity and that of the person who harmed them.
“That will help inform our statistics of course, and it will also help us narrow down other areas of prevention that we need to identify,” said Linden-Andersen. “It’s only sent once per semester to really make sure that this survivor can stay anonymous.”
The data collected through the platform will go to herself and to the co-ordinator of Bishop’s sexual aggression response office.
Lapierre hopes this will allow the university to have a better understanding of the scope of the problem on and off campus.
Few students report their experiences
According to Statistics Canada, 71 per cent of post-secondary students surveyed in 2019 said they had witnessed or experienced unwanted sexual behaviours within the last year, though less than one in 10 said they had spoken about their experience with someone associated with their school.
A survey of 188 Bishop’s students by the sexual culture committee last February showed a similar trend.
Of the 62 students who said they had experienced a form of sexual violence, only four said they had reported their experience to security or the university’s sexual aggression response office, and just one went ahead with a formal complaint.
Lapierre said students are often hesitant to disclose their experiences because they don’t believe action — whether that be expulson or removing the person from a class — will be taken.
“As far as we’ve heard from survivors who have reported and have gone through that process, that’s not really what’s been happening,” Lapierre said. “There’s so little faith in the system at the university right now.”
She also wants to see more transparency from the university regarding to the number of sexual violence disclosures they receive each year, and hopes this platform could change things moving forward.
“I do think that the university should take advantage of this system, and create and compile data,” she said.
Bishop’s is the first Quebec university to use the platform, joining others including Mount Allison University in New Brunswick, St. Francis Xavier University in Nova Scotia, the University of Windsor and the University of Winnipeg.
The data gathered by the platform is encrypted and does not track the ID addresses of its users, said Mary Lobson, the founder of the platform.
The platform can be accessed by going to https://reescommunity.com/campus, where Bishop’s can be selected from the site’s drop-down list.