Lethbridge post-secondary institutions adopt new tool to report sexual violence

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Lethbridge post-secondary institutions adopt new tool to report sexual violence
The online platform has already been implemented by other schools in Canada and aims to support victims of sexual and gender-based violence. Sarah Jones has more – Sep 1, 2023

An online reporting platform will help individuals attending and working at both post-secondary institutions in Lethbridge to report gender based and sexual violence.

REES, the platform’s name, is an acronym for “Respect, Educate, Empower Survivors.”

The 24-hour, seven day a week service offers increased options for people to share information on an incident with their school or seek help anonymously if they aren’t prepared to submit a formal complaint.

According to Mary Lobson, founder and CEO of REES, it helps provide trauma-informed pathways for survivors and allows the school to collect data that can be used for prevention.

“Findings came out in Alberta related to sexual violence on campus with approximately half of students indicating that they’ve experienced some form of sexual violence on campus or unwanted sexualized behaviors,” said Lobson.

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“I think this is a significant call-out to the powers that be, both as institutions and government, to really listen to that and see what can be put in place to create more pathways for people to come forward.”

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In 2019, a Statistics Canada survey on “Individual Safety in the Post-Secondary Student Population” indicated that 71 per cent of students witnessed or experienced unwelcome sexualized behavior over the year, and less than one in 10 actually spoke about what happened with someone associated with their school.

With some students attending both college and university in their academic careers, the adoption of a common reporting system is anticipated to create familiarity with the platform.

“We recognize that for an issue such as gender based and sexual violence, having access to anonymous spaces to report rather than having to talk to someone really reduces barriers, so we wanted to make sure that we provided an option that was more survivor centered,” Carmen Guenther, manager of wellness services at Lethbridge College, said.

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“We’re really focused on flourishing students and that’s where this platform also provide value, because its only when we feel safe we can truly flourish and thrive in any context, and that is especially true in an academic context,” Mark Slomp, executive director for student services at the University of Lethbridge, explained.

The U of L and Lethbridge College are the latest schools to join a growing number of post-secondary institutions across the country who have already implemented REES.

Lobson said more schools across the province should look to creating better opportunities for their students.

“When we look at the province of Alberta, about half of the institutions only have email reporting,” said Lobson. “So, thinking about it from a trauma perspective, from a privacy and data security perspective, that’s not really the way that institutions of higher education should be gathering sensitive information like this.”

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“Whether its adopting REES or not, they could certainly reflect on the ways that they are creating pathways to come forward for people and making sure that they’re available, accessible, and ones that are respecting of people’s privacy.”

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