2016-10-3 leading the way
SAIT is one of only a handful of post-secondary institutions with a stand-alone policy on sexual assault that identifies how we'll investigate complaints, protects the rights of those involved in an investigation, and ensures internal inquiries will occur in a respectful manner that's thorough and timely.
The creation of SAIT's sexual assault policy occurs as Canadian colleges and universities face criticism for not doing enough to combat sexualized violence.
Front page news and high profile lawsuits have underscored inappropriate conduct on campus - from "rape chants" at rallies to misogynistic and homophobic posts on the social media sites operated by school-sanctioned clubs.
Despite concerns, the Globe and Mail reports only 12 out of 100 Canadian post-secondary institutions have voluntarily created stand-alone sexual assault policies.
"By proactively taking a stand against sexual violence, SAIT has set the standard for this important topic," says Michael Sondermann, Associate Registrar. "We've identified the actions SAIT will take if an incident occurs. Our process is respectful, responsive and protects rights."
Beyond physical violence
The heart of SAIT's policy is reflected in how sexual assault is defined, clearly articulating it does not require physical contact. Intimidation, verbal pressure, sexual jokes or sexual suggestiveness - anything that would make another person feel uncomfortable - will not be tolerated.
The policy also confirms the essential need to establish approval before participating in a sexual activity and uses several principles to guide how consent must be granted.
"You would think that determining if consent had been given would be an easy concept, but research shows there's a lack of understanding about what consent means," says Sondermann.
"Bottom line, sexual activity is only legal when both parties consent and it's not good enough to say that consent was assumed or there was an implied belief it had been granted. Both parties must clearly say ‘yes'."
While having a SAIT policy and procedure is an important step forward, Sondermann says we must continue to build awareness because the issue is widespread among students.
"Approximately one in five women who attend post-secondary institutions have reported being sexually assaulted. In more than 75% of those cases, the assault occurs by someone they know," says Sondermann.
To support SAIT's response, staff have been trained in specific interview techniques designed to support and help victims of trauma. In addition, SAIT provides ethical standards training to ensure staff awareness of the value of a work place culture that's inclusive and respectful.
"It's not enough to have words posted to our website. We need to make it real, engage with our colleagues and our students - send a strong message that SAIT takes this matter very seriously," says Sondermann.
The policy was created in conjunction with Calgary Communities Against Sexual Abuse, a non-profit organization that has partnered with SAIT to help us prevent, and respond to, sexualized violence.