VJN News

Brandon University silences sexual assault victims

Elise von Scheel

VJN News

Brandon University has come under fire for asking sex assault victims to sign behavioural contracts, allowing them to only confide in a school counsellor.

In September of 2015, a group of students heard a rumour that their school was asking sexual assault survivors to sign what some students called contracts of silence.

These students, led by Stefon Irvine, traced the gossip through the grapevine – eventually finding a woman who had signed the contract.

“She sought us out and provided the contract, and her story of how the administration had silenced her,” Irvine said.

In April 2016, the students formed the group We Believe Survivors to expose the university administration for the contract. According to the document, if the victim or the accused disclosed the assault to someone outside the counselling office, they would be expelled.  

The day after We Believe Survivors broke the news of the contract, BrandonUniversity agreed stop issuing the behavioural contracts.

“Brandon University used a Student Behavioural Contract, which we now recognize to be inappropriate in this case,” the university said in a statement. “No survivor should feel silenced.”

The statement said the school recognized that sexual assault does occur on their campus, and that the university will renew its focus to encourage reporting and providing survivor support services.

Behavioural contracts can hide the accused behind a wall of silence, as well as the victims by threatening them with disciplinary action, Irvine said.

“It really takes away that person’s agency,” he said. “No one should ever be told they can’t talk about it and if they do there will be negative consequences.”

Female students who experience sexual violence often don’t come forward because they feel like the administration at post-secondary institutions are more interested in protecting the school’s reputation than achieving justice for the victim, said Brie Davies, a support worker at the Sexual Assault Support Centre of Ottawa. 

“We live in a rape culture,” Davies said. “If institutions and the general public were to believe victims who come forward, they would realize it’s such a big problem”

According to Statistics Canada, more than 460,000 women are sexually assaulted each year. Of those, less than 10 per cent report the incident to the police and only three per cent of accused serve jail time.

As many as one in five women will be raped before they graduate from university or college, according to a 2015 study at the University of Windsor. At a school with 40,000 students, that’s the equivalent of 1,000 women for each year of an undergraduate degree. 

Canadian universities are not currently required to keep track of the number of sexual assaults reported to them, nor are they legally obligated to involve the police