Two major Canadian universities — Queen’s and the University of Saskatchewan — have committed to following the lead of nine other Canadian institutions that have implemented a sexual assault policy.
In a statement released Friday afternoon, University of Saskatchewan vice-provost Patti McDougall again apologized for how the school responded to a 2012 sexual assault in residence. “We did not do enough to care for those involved,” she said.
The apology came after an ongoing Star investigation into how schools are failing sexual assault victims revealed the University of Saskatchewan’s response to Jenny, a 23-year-old who was raped in residence in 2012.
When Jenny’s mother reported her attack to campus security and the president’s office, she received no followup. It took the university six weeks to send an alert out to students, warning them of a potential predator in residence.
“The events outlined in the Nov. 20 and 21 articles in the Toronto Star saddened me,” McDougall said in her statement. “It saddens me to see the state of affairs at campuses across Canada and it especially saddens me to see how our own university handled the event depicted in these articles.
“Our senior leaders are committed to changing this and following the lead of nine Canadian universities that have already developed and implemented sexual assault policies.”
McDougall said the university has, in recent years, enhanced its efforts to prevent sexual assault.
“Our goal is to continue to look for ways to improve how we deal with sexual assault when it happens on our campus and how we take steps to prevent this from happening.”
Queen’s University principal Daniel Woolf also committed Friday to creating and implementing a sexual assault policy.
He said the university’s Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Working Group has already discussed a policy “but I have asked that they move it to the top of their list of priorities,” Woolf told the Star in a statement Friday afternoon.
In a public statement released earlier in the day, Woolf said he was “deeply disturbed” to read the Star’s investigation and that he was “profoundly sorry” that two women reportedly experienced sexual violence during their time at Queen’s and didn’t feel supported.
He also praised the women for coming forward.
Woolf pledge to do better on the issue and is directing the task force of students, staff and faculty members to fast track recommendations on how to improve safety at the school “to expedite its specific recommendations for the university on enhancing and creating programs and initiatives that address sexual assault.”
The Star investigation revealed that nine of 78 universities across the country have sexual assault polices in place.
Woolf had refused two requests for an interview before the story was published.
Former Queen’s student Tess Klaver, 21, who says she was sexually assaulted by her boyfriend during her first year there, told the Star she had three counselling sessions in a row cancelled by Queen’s staff.
She decided to transfer to a different school and in a letter she said she wrote to her department, a requirement to drop a course after a deadline, she revealed she had been assaulted by a fellow Queen’s student. The school asked no followup questions, she said.
The mother of another former Queen’s student sent the Star a letter she wrote to Woolf in 2012, about her daughter’s alleged rape in her dorm room in 2009 and the university’s continued failure to support her over four years.
She said her daughter, whose identity is protected by a court-ordered publication ban, received a nondescript note from counselling that forced her to re-explain her alleged rape over and over again to skeptical professors when school work overlapped with court preparation and dates.
The school told the Star the university has hired six and a half more counsellors across faculties and in health services since 2012. Queen’s also has had a special counsellor dedicated to handling sexual assault since 2009, the school said.
In his written statement posted on the Queen’s Gazette website, Woolf said he intends to meet with the sexual assault prevention group in the next two weeks and will call on them to make their findings public by the end of the school year.
Woolf said he cannot comment on specific cases involving current or former Queen’s students because of privacy reasons, but said there is “no tolerance” for sexual assault at Queen’s and as principal it is his duty to lead and participate in discussions around sexual assault on campus.
“Like most universities, we have much work to do in this regard, but we have also made some significant strides,” wrote Woolf, adding the school has enhanced resources to deal with sexual assault in the past five years, including developing training programs for residence dons and orientation leaders.