University of Alberta Students’ Union calling for more action against sexual violence

The University of Alberta’s Students’ Union is calling on the post-secondary institution to make changes to its sexual violence reporting process, which it says is confusing and results in students being reluctant to come forward.

“One of the biggest barriers is people are told (or) read the Sexual Violence Policy. They read it over and they’re totally confused,” said Talia Dixon, the UASU’s vice-president of student life.

Dixon said the policy is filled with jargon, directs readers to other policies and is unclear on next steps.

“Last week, I had eight student leaders read it over because they had an incident in their community and they went, ‘This is so confusing. I don’t understand it.’”

Dixon said one of her first experiences with sexual violence on campus happened to a friend who was in their first year of university.

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READ MORE: U of A report shows over 40 incidents of sexual violence on campus in 2015-2016

Her friend reported the incident to a lower-level university staff member, but Dixon said it went nowhere.

“Reaching out to that one staff member was a big step,” Dixon said. “But because they didn’t get any follow-up, and because no action was taken, they were totally discouraged from taking any action in the future.”

In her role as UASU’s vice-president of student life, Dixon said reluctance to report is a scenario she hears about all too often.

“Although there’s been a lot of advocacy from leaders, it’s not one where there’s been a lot of substantive, systemic change made,” Dixon said.

In Canada, 71 per cent of students have witnessed or experienced unwanted sexualized behaviours, according to a 2020 Canadian Centre for Justice and Community Safety Statistics (Statistics Canada) report.

“Sexual violence is something that I’ve heard from many students and it happens in many areas of our campus,” Dixon said.

Samantha Pearson, director of the Sexual Assault Centre at the University of Alberta, said in an email that the centre knows many community members don’t feel served by current reporting structures.

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“We have worked collaboratively with other units on campus to propose alternative paths to justice for those who have experienced sexual violence,” Pearson wrote.

She said the centre is interested in seeing the U of A offer non-punitive accountability options such as transformative justice.

Last week, the university’s deputy provost Wendy Rodgers wrote a statement condemning sexual violence after a former drama instructor and current graduate student was charged in connection with sexual assaults dating back to the early 2000s.

READ MORE: Edmonton police charge former drama teacher, actor after historic sexual assault investigation

No one from the U of A was available for an interview on Friday, but a spokesperson said the institution is having ongoing conversations and hopes to have an update next week.

The students’ union is planning an event on the topic on Wednesday.

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