New site points to help for victims
By Adela Talbot
February 28, 2013
Western has launched a new website dedicated to bringing everything together in one location for victims of sexual assault within the university community. The site, live today, hopes to provide easy answers to victims asking ‘What now?’ The site can be accessed at uwo.ca/campus_life/health_wellness/sex_assault.
“We have a number of different services available for students, staff and faculty. But health and wellness is decentralized. Different places offer different services on campus. The website came out of a reflection on that, for information to be effectively disseminated,” said Nicole Versaevel, health promotion manager within Health Services at Western. “One of the primary issues – I’ve heard it repeatedly over the years – is ‘improved access.’
“Western provides really wonderful services, but a lot of the time it’s just about knowing what we offer.”
Sexual assault and relationship violence are pervasive problems among university student populations. Research studies conducted on campuses in Canada and the United States suggest between 15-25 per cent of college/university-aged women will experience some form of sexual assault during their academic career.
Those same studies point to a confluence of factors putting university students at particularly risk: early adulthood, alcohol use, multiple sexual partners and strong peer group socialization. All may be defining features for many student experiences, and all are risk factors for victimization.
In light of these, everyone from the provincial government and law enforcement to university administrators is asking how to better respond to the needs of victims.
“If an assault happens, what do you do?” Versaevel asked. “Ultimately, one of the things I found as challenging was navigating the system; it’s very difficult, overall. With (the website), we wanted a transparent process to assist students, staff and faculty – a resource that will help guide them.”
The new website offers links for victims, potential witnesses and includes detailed information ranging from immediate help and legal information to definitions and recommendations on how to support someone who has been assaulted.
The site also makes clear, directly on its front page, Western’s definition of sexual assault: “Sexual assault is any form any form of sexual activity with another person without his/her consent. It includes touching, grabbing, kissing, and/or attempted or completed oral, anal, and/or vaginal intercourse.”
In an effort to create a centralized resource, a working group looked at various colleges and universities, comparing the services Western would offer to what others offer their communities. The results varied, Versaevel noted.
“There was no real gold standard. Lots of places had nothing specific – like this website. Other places had a sexual assault centre right on campus,” she said.
As the website was developing at Western, the provincial government released a document from the Ontario Women’s Directorate, titled Developing a Response to Sexual Violence: A Resource Guide for Ontario’s Colleges and Universities. The document aims to help Ontario’s postsecondary institutions efficiently prepare and properly react with appropriate resources and services for incidents of sexual assault on campus.
“The website was in development when it was released. We were already on top of it, so it’s good to see we’re responding to the issues that arise in a way that is recommended,” Versaevel said.
A working group is dedicated to ensuring an ongoing appropriate effort to address the issue of sexual assault on campus.
“The website is really the first step. We really need to look at disseminating information. That sounds so simple, but there are still so many people who don’t know we offer counseling on campus. It’s just making sure people have access to information that’s needed,” she said.
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