An independent research group funded by the Ontario government has recently released a report titled “The Response to Sexual Violence at Ontario University Campuses”. This report highlighted what the investigators believed contributed to challenges for colleges and universities in Ontario, Canada in preventing sexual assault on their campuses and establishing fair and supportive adjudication processes. These findings include a recommendation for Ontario higher education institutions to urgently act on improving the support for identified victims and protecting other students from facing similar trauma.
According to Ontario’s Sexual Violence and Harassment Action Plan Act passed this year, universities have until January 1st, 2017 to come up with an action plan.
The overarching strategy for this plan should incorporate two main goals: 1) Provide better education for students and staff to lessen the perpetuation of misconceptions about sexual assault, and 2) Make it easier for victims to connect to the help and resources they need.
The first component is more straightforward; universities must provide in-depth training to members of the campus community on the realities of sexual assault and how it should be handled. However, the second component is a bit more complex. What can Ontario schools do to make it easier for victims to receive the support they need from administration?
Lessen the Stifling Nature of Bureaucracy
One of the five main issues the report outlines is that “‘Institutional silos’ at schools create a ‘frustrating bureaucratic nightmare’ for survivors.” (1) There is not enough synchronicity between departments to effectively handle an incident of sexual assault, which causes the process to be frustratingly slow and inefficient for the victims who are suffering as they wait for an outcome. Knowing how long it might take for the process to be over, some victims are hesitant to report an incident at all because they don’t want to drag out an already traumatic experience.
Universities need a way to connect all departments involved in order to expedite the process of reaching a conclusion. The process needs to be more fluid and organized, with the information moving in a fast, well-directed flow. Universities will have to figure out a way to smooth out the wrinkles of their current procedures and waste less time with confusion and errors. An ideal solution would be a shared system that provides everyone involved with the information they need, automatically routes tasks to each appropriate department, and sets pre-defined workflows to ensure that an investigation follows the exact path it was meant to follow.
Provide a Trusted, Judgment-Free Outlet for Victims to Report Incidents
Another key issue Ontario universities face is that victims do not have access to resources they can trust when seeking to report an assault. Often-marginalized groups, like LGBT students, feel especially uncomfortable asking for help, because they are unsure of whether they can trust administrators to understand their situation.
Having a fast, painless and preferably electronic way of submitting an incident report takes a huge amount of pressure of off victims who might be dreading having to meet with an authority figure in person to report a humiliating and traumatizing event. While in-person discussions will be required for victims at some point during the process, the first step of initially reporting an incident is often the hardest, and universities should focus on making it as easy as possible for them.
Make Up for Understaffing by Increasing Efficiency of Existing Staff
Another problematic factor mentioned by the report is that the departments responsible for handling sexual assault investigations are often understaffed. If hiring more team members is not an option, universities must find ways to take some of the strain off their existing employees and provide them with resources that allow them to be more efficient.
Departments that rely on time-consuming, disorganized methods of communicating and sharing information are guaranteed to be weighed down, making it appear that the team requires more staff. However, implementing a solution to eliminate repetitive administrative tasks could have the same effect on a department’s efficiency as hiring new employees. With a streamlined software solution to automate many of these tasks, employees will feel far less stressed, and the increase in productivity will allow the software to essentially pay for itself. This is a solution that allows both for better working conditions and better departmental results.
Solutions like Advocate aid in struggles like Ontario’s by setting workflows for staff to follow during a report, connecting victims to resources and increasing productivity for the departments involved. Regardless of which solution Ontario universities choose, it’s critical that they focus on improving their internal processes by 2017, and hopefully they will set an example for universities worldwide that face similar problems.
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