This week, West Coast LEAF called on post-secondary institutions in British Columbia to develop effective, robust policies to protect survivors of sexual violence and misconduct on campus.
The law requiring campus policies sets a low bar for the protections of women and girls, which in some cases falls short of even criminal law protections. In our view, campus policies must exceed this low standard in order to effectively respond to the high levels of sexual violence at post-secondary institutions. You can read one of the 25 letters we sent out this week here.
The provincial government recently passed Bill 23, the Sexual Violence and Misconduct Policy Act (“the Act”), which comes into force in May 2017. The Act requires public post-secondary institutions to create and implement policies that address the prevention of sexual misconduct and include procedures for complaint intake and response. Institutions will have one year to enact these policies, and many have already started developing them. After reports in the media of sexual assaults and harassment on campuses being ignored or ineffectually handled, the need for these policies is clear.
While we are pleased to see the BC government take initiative on this issue, West Coast LEAF is also calling on post-secondary institutions to go beyond the minimum standard established by the Act to adopt policies that will meaningfully address sexual misconduct.
The Act defines sexual misconduct too narrowly and sets a high standard for finding sexual misconduct where the distribution of intimate images or videos is concerned. In the Act, the distribution of intimate images or videos counts as sexual misconduct only when it is done without consent and with the intent to distress. This makes sexual misconduct under the Act even harder to establish than the criminal offense of publishing intimate images without consent, which can include distribution of intimate images with recklessness about whether consent was given.
For instance, if a woman shares an intimate photo of herself with her partner, it is a crime for him to forward the image to someone else without determining whether he had her consent to distribute it. Under the Criminal Code, it wouldn’t matter if he did not intend to cause her distress; he was reckless about whether she consented to the image being distributed to others. The Act governing post-secondary institutions does not capture this type of harmful conduct in its definition of sexual misconduct.
In addition to being out of sync with Canada’s criminal laws, the definition of sexual misconduct in the Act does not reflect the reality of cyber misogyny. In order to be effective, sexual misconduct policies must be responsive to the changing ways in which violence and harassment are perpetuated—increasingly online.
West Coast LEAF’s #CyberMisogyny research report examines how our laws lag behind the reality of gender-based harassment online, which allows perpetrators to remain anonymous and reach a wider audience than ever before. The Act’s focus on intent to distress is woefully out of touch with the harms to women caused by the online distribution of intimate images, which can be spread around the world instantaneously with little forethought—and with devastating consequences.