June 18th, 2024

Gender-based violence remains ever-present issue at Canadian post-secondaries

By Ry Clarke - Lethbridge Herald Local Journalism Initiative Reporter on December 7, 2022.

December 6 is marked as the National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women. On that date in 1989, an act of violence took the lives of 14 women attending Ecole Polytechnique in Montreal, targeting women in an example of gender-based violence.

Hoping to spread awareness on the topic, the University of Lethbridge hosted a webinar with Courtney Smith, gender-based and sexual violence prevention coordinator at the University, to discuss the U of L’s process of updating the Sexual and Gender-Based Violence Policy, training, and furthering education to prevent gender-based violence in institutions.

“Gender-based violence is not an individual issue, but a systemic issue which takes an entire community to evoke change on our campus. Although sexual violence and gender-based violence can affect anyone, there are specific members of communities that experience these types of violence at disproportionate rates,” said Smith. “The definition that we now use in our recent policy revisions states that it means, the use and abuse of control over another person and is perpetuated against someone based on their gender expression, gender identity, or perceived gender.”

Sexual harassment, stalking, sexualized violence, sexual assault, and other examples were discussed in the talk as actions that fall under gender-based violence.

“Forty-one per cent of all reported incidents of sexual assaults were reported by students. One in ten women experienced sexual assault in a post secondary setting. Women with disabilities are two times more likely than women without disabilities to have been sexually assaulted. Seventy-one per cent of students at Canadian post secondary schools either witnessed or experienced unwanted sexualized behaviour in a post secondary setting. Ninety per cent of reported sexual assaults are committed against women. Nineteen per cent of women aged 15 to 64 reported that they experienced at least one type of harassment in the workplace. And Indigenous women are three times more likely to experience violence in their lifetime,” said Smith.

To combat those numbers, the University is implementing training and courses to help educate and prevent gender-based violence.

“Within the past six to nine months we have had a policy revision where we looked at our procedures and our prevention measures on campus. We have now mandated the gender-based violence training to all of our students as well as senior leadership,” said Smith. “Over the past few years, the focus at post secondary institutions within Canada have largely focused their policies, support, and prevention on sexual violence.

Finding education helps prevent the violence, and Smith notes how post-secondary schools need to continue training on these topics to curb the numbers.

“Education is the best form of prevention. In order for us to start to eradicate gender-based violence on our campus, it takes everybody working together to understand the basic level of what this harm does to our society,” said Smith. “Rates of gender-based violence have rose drastically. Anytime a natural disaster happens, and COVID is classified as one, in the gender-based violence realm we see a spike in rates for about seven years. I would say this to be true, my role has been the busiest it’s been since I have been here in 2019.”

With revisions to the Sexual Violence Policy, and education spreading awareness, the hope is to end the violence against those targeted by gender-based attacks.

“Gender-based violence impacts all of us. Because of this, it is important you learn how to recognize when situations have breached consent, appropriately respond to a disclosure in a trauma-informed way, and understand how to be an active bystander,” said Smith. “Learning how to recognize and accurately respond to these situations can help us to create a safe environment.”

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