TORONTO – At least half of Ontario university and college students who participated in a provincewide survey on campus sexual violence said they experienced sexual harassment, the government said Tuesday, calling the finding “disturbing.”
Minister of Training, Colleges and Universities Merrilee Fullerton said the survey, conducted last year, underscores the need to improve supports for students.
The government said 63 per cent of the 116,000 university students who completed the survey reported they had experienced some type of sexual harassment, while 49.6 per cent of 42,000 college students who participated reported the same.
“The results of the survey are heartbreaking and disturbing,” said Fullerton. “We want students and parents to know there are resources and supports available and that concerns will be listened to and addressed accordingly.”
The survey – launched last March under the previous Liberal government – was made up of over 50 questions that gauged respondents’ perceptions of consent and rape myths, their experiences with sexual violence, and how well they think their school responds to reports of sexual violence.
Fullerton said the survey found that only 60 per cent of university and college students were satisfied with the institutional response when they reported an unwanted sexual experience. The minister said that finding was “unacceptable.”
In response, the province said it will double grant funding to bolster sexual violence programs on campus _ upping a $3 million annual fund to $6 million. The funds will go toward training, security cameras, enhanced lighting and online safety apps.
Fullerton said the province will also now require all colleges and universities to report annually on the measures taken to support students who have experienced sexual violence.
Schools will further be required to review their sexual violence policies and form task forces to address the issue by September.
Abullah Mushtaq, with the College Student Alliance, said the survey results show what students groups and advocates have been saying for years – that sexual violence on campuses across Ontario is pervasive.
“There is a problem and something needs to be done,” he said.
NDP women’s issues critic Suze Morrison said the government funding announced Tuesday won’t address the root causes of sexual violence on college and university campuses.
“A few million dollars in a fund for cameras does nothing to improve the services that sexual assault survivors actually need,” she said.
Fullerton noted that of the information gathered in the survey, only some of it is being publicly released in order to protect student privacy. The government is consulting with the province’s Information and Privacy Commission on the release of additional survey results, she said.
Liberal post-secondary education critic Mitzie Hunter, who launched the survey last year when she was minister in charge of the sector, said the survey data is already anonymous and nothing should prevent the release of more data.
“This report should have been released months ago,” she said in a statement. “While some information was released today, this delay will continue to put the wellness of students on the back-burner.”
Sandy Welsh, who leads the Council of Ontario Universities’ Reference Group on Sexual Violence, said survey data provided by the government helps schools understand the “global experience” on campus, adding that institutions would welcome more detailed information.
Overall, Welsh said the survey findings shows there is more work to be done.
“It’s important data for us to have and it’s quite sobering,” she said.
Colleges Ontario CEO Linda Franklin said the schools are working to strengthen their sexual violence programs. The new funding announced Tuesday will help provincial colleges work towards that goal, she said.
“Promoting safe campuses is a top priority at our colleges,” she said in a statement. “This additional support will enhance our education and training programs and improve the support for survivors of sexual violence.”