The Systemic Mishandling of Sexual Violence Claims Violates Our Right to Education

We Should Not Have to Go Through Hell Just to go to School

Graphic Kayleigh Valentine

Post-secondary institutions are meant to encourage students to learn, participate, and grow in a safe environment.

When students feel unsafe or threatened, policies and protocols are meant to provide them with relief, resources, and justice. But how seriously are complaints about sexual harassment and sexual violence taken?

According to a recent CBC article, a former Concordia student who was sexually harassed by a tenured professor at the university discovered that almost 10 years after the incidents, nothing had changed. When the student first contacted her department and informed them of the stress she was experiencing as a result of her professor’s inappropriate advances, the department deemed her allegations as “insufficient” to receive an extension on her assignments.

When she wanted to formally file a complaint a few years later, she was tossed from one department to another per a 2018 CBC article from March 2018. She was ultimately told that it was too late to file a complaint. In fact, since her experience with sexual harassment, at least two students reported having experienced similar inappropriate advances from the same professor as he continued to teach.

According to an ongoing Center for Research-Action on Race-Relations case, another Concordia student filed complaints with the security department after being sexually assaulted and threatened by another Concordia student on campus. The victim later faced systemic obstacles in the preparation of and during the Student Tribunal Hearing as it was repeatedly postponed.

The victim’s needs and requests, such as the use of video testimony so as not to be present in the same room as her attacker, were ignored. The hearing was, therefore, handled with little regard to the victim’s safety, experience, disability or her needs associated with being a survivor of gender-based violence.

According to the CBC, since 2012, a handful Concordia survivors have brought their cases to the Quebec Human Rights and Youth Rights Commission after internal resources and support services failed to provide them with effective protection.

At McGill, student members of the Students’ Society of McGill University are alleging that the school has failed to address complaints against five professors in the Faculty of Arts over allegations of inappropriate behavior and sexual violence, according to the CBC. Seen as no secret on campus, many students argue that McGill is aware of these allegations but has done little to act upon them. Not to mention, informal complaints made by students appear to be systematically stalled once they reach the Office of the Dean of Arts.

In addition, a former student at Université du Québec à Montréal says that the school had not informed her if any reprimands have been taken against a professor she says sexually harassed her, per an article from the CBC. The university says that provincial employment privacy laws prevent them from disclosing any such information, even from the victims involved.

A provincial law to address sexual violence on campuses was passed in December 2017 and asked post-secondary schools to submit a new sexual violence policies before Jan. 1, 2019. As reported by the CBC, the law requires mandatory consent training for students, a complaints process, and for institutions to include sexual violence in their codes of conduct. Among those who failed to comply with the deadline were McGill and UQAM, arguing for more time for consultations.

The above cases show that university students still encounter systemic barriers in accessing educational services and programs in an equitable and accommodating manner. These barriers prevent victims from receiving appropriate protection, justice, and the continuation of their studies in a safe environment.

It is obvious that these educational institutions have not adopted an integrated civil rights approach to services, one that ensures that the right to education includes the right not to be harassed and discriminated against because of sexism and other forms of oppression.

This failure is systemic and requires a new, more inclusive, and respectful approach to the concept of education. Solutions to these systemic barriers would need to include a consistent and thorough complaints process that would prevent for victims to be shuffled from one department to the other, a greater sensitivity towards sexual violence on the part of educational institutions, and more transparency.