EDITORIAL: Bill 23 builds a foundation, but there’s still more to be done

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On May 4, Oak Bay-Gordon Head MLA Andrew Weaver led a townhall discussion at UVic introducing Bill 23, or the Sexual Violence and Misconduct Policy Act. While this latest legislation is an important step in combating sexualized and gender-based violence on campuses across the province, much of the discussion addressed individuals who already recognize the need for, and support, this latest round of legislation. Shockingly absent from this discussion were those who probably needed to hear it the most: UVic administrators.

As has been demonstrated time and time again, there has been a monumental mishandling of cases involving sexualized violence on university campuses. Whether it’s Brandon University in Manitoba muzzling students who try to speak out about their assaults, or UVic placing survivors in residence with their convicted assailants, or Thompson Rivers University advising students to drop out of their studies in the wake of an attack, universities have dropped the ball across the board. The mismanagement of cases like these is exactly why administrators should have been in attendance: so that they can finally listen and respond properly to the concerns of survivors on this campus. Amid mass pressure on the administration in the last year, UVic has committed to broad consultations with groups that deal with sexual assaults, yet when provided with that opportunity, they failed to show up at the table.

To back off the administration for a moment, there seemed to be a broad consensus among those in attendance that the issue of sexualized violence is one that is inherited by university administrations, and that more needs to be done to prevent these issues before students arrive on campus. The glaring need for sex-ed programs at the secondary and high school level that emphasize consent led one community educator to lament that sex education was virtually “non-existent” in B.C. high schools. Considering Ontario’s broad outrage over sex-ed reforms for K–12 students last year, it would seem that community members are following the same path as administrators, and refusing to show up and do what is necessary for the safety of their students.

Whether the issue is an inherited one or not, a lot of individuals experience harm when more can be done to prevent these situations from occurring in the first place. And no doubt further legislation will need to be introduced down the road. For now, however, it’s up to students to keep the pressure on administrators to follow these new policies, and to be vocal about changes that can be made for future students within their communities. It’s up to those in positions of power to listen, and show the proper care for assault cases so that more survivors don’t fall victim a second (or third, or fourth . . . ) time to a negligent administration pre-occupied with staying on brand.

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