Amid growing public interest in sexual assault, harassment and abuse, Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne has announced a new package of programs to address those issues both inside the Legislative Assembly and out.
The first initiative, slated for early next year, is a public information campaign to “challenge norms” and “minimize hurtful behaviour, skepticism and myths,” as well as raise awareness of services available for victims. Provincial parliament is also reviewing its own internal policies and requiring all government MPPs to attend sexual assault and harassment training.
The premier says she has asked the ministries of the Attorney General, Education, Community Safety, Education, Training, Colleges and Universities and Health to propose reforms to better support victims. The recommendations will be gathered into an action plan by March 8, 2015, which is International Women’s Day. Wynne hasn’t yet said how much the programs will cost or when they will be implemented.
These announcements come on the heels of a dispute about the House’s planned committee on sexual assault and harassment. There’s no agreement yet over whether it will be composed of government MPPs or a mix of representatives from all three parties.
Wynne called on Education Minister Liz Sandals to develop a new sex education curriculum “that gets at some of the root causes of gender inequality, and starts at the very earliest stages to develop an understanding of healthy relationships and consent,” a move that may prove controversial. Previous attempts to update the sex ed program, which was last revised in 1998, have gone down in flames amid disagreements about what concepts are appropriate to introduce when.
The importance of consent must be taught in schools as part of the regular sex ed curriculum, say three young women who founded an anti-sexism group, Project Slut, at their Toronto high school. FLARE spoke with the group as part of #Project97, Rogers’ year-long reporting initiative about sexual assault, harassment and abuse.
“We put condoms on bananas, teachers told us not to have sex, we were shown really gross photos of STIs (sexually transmitted infections), that’s it. There was very little discussion about sexual harassment and bullying,” says group member Erin Dixon.
Governments have been under pressure to address sexual assault in the wake of massive public outcry over the Jian Ghomeshi affair, the suicide of Rehtaeh Parsons after alleged sexual bullying, and allegations against comedian Bill Cosby—among other incidents.
Survivors of sexual abuse, from regular people to politicians such as Cheri DiNovo and Sheila Copps, have begun to tell their stories and decry the abysmal 97 per cent of sexual crimes that are not brought to the attention of the police.
This story is part of #Project97, a year-long conversation about sexual assault, abuse and harassment. Visit Project97.ca for more details about this collaborative project by Rogers-owned media outlets, and join us on Twitter with the hashtag #Project97.