Creating a Culture of Care



By Courtney Webster

Close your eyes, clear your mind, and take a deep breath. You are going to need all of the inner strength that you can get for this one. Are you ready? Let’s begin.

Think of five people in your life. These people can be male, female, gender fluid, or gender unidentified or undisclosed. These people can be family members, friends, colleagues, neighbours, or your favourite barista at your beloved coffee shop who always remembers your order. Just think of five people.

Do you have your five? Okay, now brace yourself for the next step, because it is not going to be pretty.

Open your eyes, take another deep breath, and read the following statement carefully.

  • One in five women experience sexual assault while attending a post-secondary institution (Canadian Federation of Students-Ontario [CFS-O], 2015).

One in five. Remember those five people you were just thinking about? One of those people could be living proof of that statistic.

Now tell me that this statement does not evoke some sort of visceral reaction from deep within your core. Tell me that those numbers do not matter. Tell me that those people do not matter. You can’t, can you? So then tell me this – what are post-secondary education (PSE) institutions doing to prevent these numbers from climbing? What are PSE institutions doing to support survivors of attempted or completed sexual assault? More importantly, perhaps, what are they not doing that they could be doing?

The Current Situation

While the sources conducted for the purpose of this blog do not all share the same statistics as the CFS-O (2015) regarding the number of individuals who have been or will be sexually assaulted while attending PSE institutions, the numbers are all similarly staggering. Here are a few other statistics gathered from various sources:

  • According to Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne’s action plan, “It’s Never Okay”, developed to combat sexual assault on university and college campuses, one in three women will experience some form of sexual assault in her lifetime (Government of Ontario, 2015);
  • Studies over the past few years in the United States and Canada have estimated that 15 to 25 per cent of women had experienced some form of sexual assault during their time at school (Mathieu & Poisson, 2014)

While issues of sexual violence and harassment are not confined strictly to college and university campuses, it is a pervasive problem that must be addressed. There is a need for institutions to establish both prevention and intervention programs to reduce the incidence of sexual assault, while also providing effective support services for survivors (Cares et al., 2015). The objectives for PSE administrators and leaders should be to combat sexual violence on campus and foster a culture of respect, inclusion, and civility (Napolitano, 2015). The goal for all institutions and those working within them must be to be proactive, not merely reactive.

In a study conducted in 2014, researchers found that 16 PSE institutions in Canada of 87 surveyed have received zero reports of sexual assault for six consecutive years (Ward, 2015). While a low number of sexual assault reports might seem encouraging, researchers believe the numbers could unfortunately be indicative of an unsupportive campus climate in which students do not feel comfortable or safe reporting their assault (Ward, 2015). It is essential that administrators of PSE institutions understand and recognize that reporting a higher number of incidents could be suggestive of an institution in which survivors feel safe reporting, as well as one that is effectively tracking and monitoring data regarding sexual assault (Tamburri, 2015).

What is Being Done?

“It’s Never Okay: An Action Plan to Stop Sexual Violence and Harassment” is a 2015 document released by the Government of Ontario to address sexual violence across the province. One of the chapters within the action plan focuses on policies that are to be instated across Ontario PSE institutions. Many on-campus incidences of sexual assault occur within the first eight weeks of classes, thus as of September 2015, all PSE institutions were mandated to participate in a province-wide awareness campaign (Government of Ontario, 2015).

The goals of this action plan with regard to sexual assault on campuses are to:

  • introduce legislation that requires all post-secondary institutions to adopt a sexual assault policy to be renewed every four years;
  • ensure campuses have clearly stated complaint procedures and response protocols, effective training and prevention programs, and services and supports for survivors available 24/7;
  • require all PSE institutions to publicly report on incidence of sexual violence
  • support initiatives to reduce sexual violence and harassment;
  • ensure that all students have information about preventing sexual violence and harassment and are informed of resources and supports, starting during orientation week and continuing through the year (Government of Ontario, 2015).

This action plan and its implementation indicate significant progress being made on the issue of sexual assault and reporting on campuses. In a previous investigative study conducted by The Toronto Star (Mathieu & Poisson, 2014), the researchers found that only nine of more than 100 universities and colleges had adopted a special policy to address sexual assault. While the majority of institutions had a line or a brief statement included in one of their other policies, they did not have a specific one regarding sexual assault, reporting, or preventative strategies.

Moreover, while the majority of the PSE institutions reported that they had on-campus security cameras, patrol cars, and emergency phones, these safety measures did not take into account the violence that occurs in residences or between students who know one another. While these measures might increase the feeling of safety on campus, they might not actually increase the reality of that safety (Mathieu & Poisson, 2014).

What Needs to be Done?

Now, these sources have all focused on sexual assault on women, but I want to make it clear that sexual assault does not happen to solely to women and that is why I asked you to think of five people, without specifying whether they had to gender identify in one way. I am not proposing that universities and colleges create special support programs and policies specifically for women, but for any individual who has ever felt threatened, unsafe, or has been assaulted.

Future research must consider all individuals, regardless of gender identification, sexual orientation, race, religion, or ability, and how they are impacted by sexual assault, both as survivors and as perpetrators. Further research will also need to be conducted to address the effectiveness of the “It’s Never Okay” action plan, as well as to ensure that it is being implemented.

It is time to foster a culture of care and safety within all post-secondary education institutions. For some students, PSE is a dream come true and an exciting adventure. We cannot allow that dream, that adventure, to become a nightmare.

One in five. We have work to do.



Canadian Federation of Students-Ontario. (2015). Turning the Page: A New Chapter for Ontario’s Post-Secondary Students (2015). Retrieved from LobbyWeek-Web.pdf

Cares, A. C., Banyard, V. L., Moynihan, M. M., Williams, L. M., Potter, S. J., & Stapleton, J. G. (2015). Changing attitudes about being a bystander to violence: Translating an in-person sexual violence prevention program to a new campus. Violence Against Women, 21(2), 165-187.

Government of Ontario (2015). “It’s Never Okay”: An Action Plan to Stop Sexual Violence and Harassment. Retrieved from

Mathieu, E., & Poisson, J. (2014, November 20). Canadian post-secondary schools failing sex assault victims. The Star.

Napolitano, J. (2015). “Only yes means yes”: An essay on university policies regarding sexual violence and sexual assault. Yale Law & Policy Review, 33, 387-402.

Tamburri, R. (2015, April 10). Ontario moves to combat sexual violence on campus. University Affairs.

Ward, L. (2015, November 23). Schools reporting zero sexual assaults on campus not reflecting reality, critics, students say. Canadian Broadcasting Corporation.









8 thoughts on “Creating a Culture of Care

  1. Wow, very insightful piece here Courtney. I think you have tackled a topic that makes many of us uncomfortable, and forces us to think about a very real and scary problem. I think you have offered a lot of relevant and thought provoking information. I would also suggest to any readers interested in the success of campus safety at Brock University, to look into the newly developed Brock Student Sexual Violence Support Centre, a not-for-profit developed in 2015 by a Brock University student. This story very much parallels Courtney’s interests in creating a culture of care.

  2. Yes – a very relevant blog for this week, as it turns out. Brock did make a statement followin the CBC piece – but the page is not found this morning so I can’t link to it.

  3. Thank you for your comments and for that link, Genevieve! I was not expecting my topic to be so relevant this week, but that is an unfortunate reality. I have been following the story between Brock and CBC, and was not initially aware that the professor in question had still been working at/for Brock after the fact. Clearly there is still a long way to go with reporting procedures and handling of staff members in question. While my topic was more specific to student-student interactions, that between staff-student and staff-staff would also be important to consider and investigate.

  4. There is a lot of great information on here Courtney! Thank you for sharing!

    I believe that another direction for research in this area is to address the culture surrounding these types of assaults in the university setting. I found one article dating back to 1983 by John Briere and Neil Malamuth that found that 60% of male participants in his study at the University of Manitoba indicated some likelihood of raping or using sexual force. Indicators used to determine these stats included beliefs such as rape only happens to certain kinds of women, male dominance is justified, women enjoy sexual violence, and many more.

    I believe that some of these ideas are unrecognized in people who hold them and until people are educated on rape culture and what perpetrates it, our prevention efforts will be less effective. In the university setting, we do not get a chance to know the attitudes held by the people who we live in close proximity with. Although I’m sure these numbers would differ today then they did in 1983, I am curious to see how many people still hold these types of believes.

    I’ve referenced the article here if anyone is interested in checking it out.

    Briere, J., & Malamuth, N.M. (1983). Self-reported likelihood of sexually aggressive behavior: Attitudinal versus sexual explanations. Journal of Research in Personaility, 17, 315-323.

  5. Thank you for that resource, Sarah! It is an interesting component to sexual assault to consider, and probably one of the hardest. I absolutely want to address that sexual violence can occur between any two people, regardless of age, gender, race, sexual orientation, ability, class, and other “labelling” or “defining” characteristics. A sub-topic on sexual violence, at least in relation to the article you have posted, could also be to look at a pornography-culture and the access that all individuals, including young men, have to porn and sex on the internet. There are certain categories of pornography that are particularly violent and misogynistic, and I wonder if that kind of exposure perpetuates different ideas of what sex involves, the roles, and how individuals should behave in those situations.

  6. As someone who works where around two-thirds of our first year students live, I can attest that this is a challenging issue. I am encouraged to know that many regional sexual assault centres (like our Niagara Region Sexual Assault Centre) are focussing their attention on educating students in middle and high schools. Given that we know many assaults occur in the first few weeks of a student’s arrival on campus, I truly believe that we need to work for attitudinal change and toward a culture of consent prior to their arrival on our campuses. We have a lot of work to do on campus as well, during summer transition programming and orientation week.

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