Sexual violence is prevalent on campuses across Canada. A report by the Canadian Federation of Students-Ontario notes that “one in five women experience sexual assault while attending a post-secondary institution.” This year, even though most university classes are being delivered remotely, this problem is likely amplified.
United Nations Women has found that, since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, sexual violence has increased. They point out that this is due to “security, health and money worries,” “cramped living conditions,” “isolation with abusers,” “movement restrictions” and “deserted public spaces.”
The University of Winnipeg (U of W) hopes to address this crisis through a partnership with REES, which stands for “Respect Educate Empower Survivors.”
“REES is a 24-7 online centralized reporting and information hub for campus sexual violence,” Nell Perry, community liaison/student advisory board co-ordinator for REES, says.
“All forms of sexual violence can be reported on REES, from sexual harassment to inappropriate touching,” she says.
Depending on the situation, users can choose the way to report a situation that is most appropriate for them. Perry explains that there are three reporting options: anonymous report, connect to my campus and report to police. REES also functions as a hub for the university’s resources on things like sexual violence and healthcare.
Stacey Belding, the U of W human rights and diversity officer, is glad this partnership is happening right now.
“Unfortunately, the data shows that incidents of sexual violence have increased during the pandemic, and seeking help has become more difficult,” she says.
“As the vast majority of sexual violence is committed by someone known to the survivor and most often occurs in a private residence, students and others are still vulnerable to experiencing sexual violence,” Belding says, adding that “sexual violence can also occur in an online environment,” with things like sexually harassing messages.
“For that reason, it is important to continue to offer supports and a reporting mechanism with a range of options,” she says.
Nell echoes this message, saying that “sexual violence disproportionately affects post-secondary institutions.”
“REES is pleased to enhance the existing U of W response,” she says.
Belding notes that REES is a useful tool, because it “provides a survivor-centred reporting process, in that it gives more control to survivors and is trauma-informed.”
“Some of the key advantages of REES over a standard reporting form include specific questions to ensure that relevant information is provided, allowing users to upload documentary evidence, save reports in process (giving the survivor control over timing of reports to the university and/or police) and advanced privacy features,” she says.
“Our main focus is to promote a consent culture at the University of Winnipeg,” Belding says.
More information on REES can be found at reescommunity.com.
Published in Volume 75, Number 10 of The Uniter (November 18, 2020)