Humber releases sexual assault policy

Corinna Fitzgerald, director of Student Life Programs at Humber, is the lead author of Humber’s sexual assault policy. / MATTHEW PARISELLI Corinna Fitzgerald, director of Student Life Programs at Humber, is the lead author of Humber’s sexual assault policy. / MATTHEW PARISELLI

Matthew Pariselli
News Reporter

Mikki Decker has found her voice and she’s ready to use it.

Decker was sexually assaulted when she was five years old. It became a recurring horror in her life that would last several years, but the now 24-year-old University of Guelph-Humber Family and Community Social Services student is turning her trauma into triumph.

Humber released its stand-alone Sexual Assault and Sexual Violence Policy and Procedures on March 26. It applies to Humber College and Guelph-Humber, and was released with a personal statement by Decker, a third year student who has recently been elected Humber Students’ Federation Vice-President of Student Affairs for North campus.

“It’s really neat that all this is happening, that this policy has been finished right in line with me being elected. I know HSF is very much in support of the policy…and my hope is that they will be supportive of my role in making (the policy) one of my main focuses,” Decker said.

The policy describes sexual assault as physical behaviours ranging from unwanted touching to aggravated assault involving penetration while the more broadly defined sexual violence extends to the psychological realm and “unwanted comments or advances,” in the document’s wording.

The college sprang into action last year to address how sexual assault incidents are reported on campus. Their move was expedited after the CBC released a revealing document in February 2015 that placed Humber eighth out of 87 Canadian colleges and universities for the number of sexual assault complaints on campus between 2009 and 2013.

Humber’s Dean of Students Jen McMillen affirms the college had been investigating the process of reporting cases of sexual assault when the CBC document was issued.

“We were already gathering some resources to write the policy in the fall, and then in early winter Colleges Ontario made the decision, in light of some of the media articles, to have all colleges write a stand-alone sexual assault and sexual violence policy on their campus to combat the issues,” McMillen said.

Among other things, the policy aims to target how cases of sexual assault are processed.

“We’re trying to create an environment where people feel confident and supported to report incidences of sexual assault and sexual violence and know that they will, wherever possible, remain in control of how that information is dealt with,” McMillen said.

Corinna Fitzgerald, the director of Student Life Programs at Humber and lead author of the policy, adds that it encapsulates more of the subject than was previously noted.

“It looks at all aspects of sexual assault and sexual violence,” said Fitzgerald. “So education, prevention, support for survivors, but then also understanding the need for…due process for the person accused of harming somebody else.”

“The consequences can be quite high for somebody found in violation,” she said.

It’s a policy a number of Humber students stand behind as well.

Jake Mandel is a 22-year-old first-year student in Humber’s Pre-Service Fire Fighter Training and Education program. He is adamant that the college promote an open, safe atmosphere where discussion about sexual assault and sexual violence is respected and valued.

“It is extremely important that a policy such as this is instituted not only at Humber, but at any school or workplace,” he said. “People that experience sexual violence, either by being involved or witnessing, need to know that there is a safe place to report the acts and that they will be taken seriously.”

Decker is insistent that disclosing her history with sexual assault is necessary for future students to feel comfortable reporting their own incidences.

“A policy is great and can create a lot of change and be very impactful, but when it comes to abuse and assault and rape and the whole umbrella subject, I think it’s much more powerful when a victim has a voice,” she said. “If it means that I have to be the voice, then it’s worth it.”

The policy has also sparked a program to address the bystander’s role in sexual assault and sexual violence. Academic schools and other administrative areas of Humber will be exposed to Bringing in the Bystander training starting in a few months.

The full Sexual Assault and Sexual Violence Policy and Procedures can be found at here.

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