We Believe Survivors
Victims of sexual assault at Brandon University are required to sign a behavioural contract that forces them to say nothing about the assault except to counsellors.
We Believe Survivors, a campus group that was formed just 10 days ago, discovered the existence of the contract on a forum it set up for students to post anonymously about their stories of sexual violence on campus.
Stefon Irvine, one of the group`s organizers, said the contract re-victimizes assault survivors.
Stefon Irvine, one of the leaders behind We Believe Survivors, fears the behavioural contract could silence victims of sexual violence. (Riley Laychuk/CBC)
The contract, which Brandon University confirms is authentic, spells out that the signer cannot have contact with the other person involved in an incident and that they are not to discuss what happened with anyone else other than a counsellor.
Students are threatened with suspension or expulsion if they breach those conditions, according to a copy of the document obtained by CBC News.
"It was really unfortunate knowing that this form existed," Irvine said. "Just knowing that the culture of silence on victims and victim blaming is so huge in our community."
"It was really concerning knowing that our university is more interested in keeping their name clean and pure rather than talking about things as serious as sexual violence," he added.
'Gag order', says faculty member
Dr. Corinne Mason, co-ordinator for the Brandon University Gender and Women's Studies program, said she wasn't surprised to hear such a document existed.
Dr. Corinne Mason, coordinator of the Gender and Women’s Studies program at Brandon University, calls the contract a `gag order.` (Riley Laychuk/CBC )
"This 'gag order' is not surprising given the culture of silencing victims on all Canadian university campuses," Mason said in a statement Monday. "This 'gag order' treats survivors and perpetrators as equals in the 'incident,' and it treats the person who reports sexual assault in a disciplinary manner."
"By this letter, one could not even call the sexual assault crisis line at Klinic without risking suspension or expulsion," the statement continued. "This letter was obviously written without much knowledge of sexual assault, and without survivors' needs in mind." And without much concern for sexual assault victims!
Irvine fears that the terms of the contract will fall most heavily on those studying at Brandon University from abroad or others who might be at risk of having their funding cut.
Assault victim speaks out despite order
CBC News spoke with a sexual assault victim who signed one of the contracts. She was 17 when she was sexually assaulted in a residence at Brandon University in September 2015, she said.
"I was very suspicious of this because I felt like I was not in a place that I had to sign," said the first year student.
This is one of my big problems with this form - a victim has to sign it just after she/he has been sexually assaulted. This is clearly adding to the trauma and is in itself a form of sexual abuse. Brandon, like most universities, just don't get it yet. The victim is first in sexual assault, not the university. University 'culture of rape' is not going to end until the schools come clean and clean up their act. Right now, they are re-victimizing the victims.
She reported the incident to school staff and did sign the document swearing her to silence that same month but now wants to tell her story. The student said she didn't get the help she needed from the school.
"I wish that those few days after it happened I was not left alone. That I wasn't told I was a bad girl," she said, holding back tears. She said she was told that her incident was small compared to others.
The woman said she did go to police about a month later. Brandon Police confirmed they investigated the complaint, interviewed both people involved and consulted with Crown attorneys. No charges were laid, Sgt. Bill Brown told CBC News Tuesday morning.
The woman doesn't know if the other student was disciplined by the school, but she still does see him in the hallway from time to time.
She plans to leave Brandon for another province this summer and says she doesn't plan to return.
Meanwhile, Brandon University defends use of the behavioural contract.
"Certainly behavioural contracts are meant to protect, they're not meant to victimize or re-victimize," said Tom Brophy, associate vice president of student services at BU. "So behavioural contracts are there to protect students, that's what we endeavour to do."
Did I mention my tropical island off the coast of Labrador for sale?
"We certainly want to have our students feel safe to come forward to do that [report sexual assault and sexual violence]," he said. "It doesn't mean we don't have room to improve. I think we do and we're working towards that."
The university is in the midst of creating a sexual assault policy.
Just one sexual assault has been reported to administration this school year so far, Brophy said. However, that doesn't mean there haven't been others that weren't reported, he added.
Irvine has said he would prefer not to have a behavioural contract and have a different approach to victims of sexual assault.
"It should be survivor centred, meaning the first line of contact should be police, should be survivor centred counselling sessions, disciplinary actions for students involved," he said.
"You should never be bound by terms of agreement on how much of your story you should be allowed to say," Irvine said.
|A copy of a contract a student says she was forced to sign after an alleged sexual assault on Brandon University campus.|