Quality and Productivity Database

Descriptive Title of Proposal: THE SMRT (Sexual Misconduct Response Team): An Innovative Approach to Sexual Violence Response on Campuses
Year Submitted 2017
Person(s) Responsible for the Idea
Name / Nom Title / Titre
Ms. Jan Byrd Executive Director, Welllness and Student Life
Name of Institution The University of Winnipeg
Office Address 515 Portage Avenue
Winnipeg, Manitoba R3B 2E9
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Telephone: 204-293-8573
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Name (Senior Administrative Office of the Institution) Chris Minaker
Title (Senior Administrative Office of the Institution) Senior Executive Officer and Advisor to the President
Office Address 515 Portage Avenue
Winnipeg, Manitoba R3B 2E9
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Telephone: 204-786-9937
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Abstract

Statistically, it is known that 1 in 4 women will experience sexual misconduct in her lifetime. These experiences can be traumatic for students, impacting their ability to eat, sleep and concentrate. Over time, trauma can have serious long-term, negative effects on a student’s educational experience.

A campus environment in which individuals feel comfortable coming forward helps ensure they receive the assistance they need, and supports the institution in its efforts to identify and deal with sexual misconduct on campus. Institutional policies and protocols play a valuable role in creating these types of campus environments. The University of Winnipeg has developed the Sexual Misconduct Protocol, and a 24/7 Sexual Misconduct Response Team (SMRT) to respond to individual incidents of sexual misconduct.

Trained members of the 5-person SMRT can be reached at (204) 230-6660 and when a disclosure of sexual misconduct is received, they will meet in person to ensure the University:

  • Offers students timely, consistent, sensitive, trauma-informed and coordinated responses
  • Helps students develop immediate safety plans
  • Outlines ongoing, holistic support options, and refers students to short and longer term on-campus and community services
  • Advocates for and facilitates academic and residence accommodations
  • Explains distinctions between the various reporting options (Winnipeg Police Services, Manitoba Human Rights Commission, and the University of Winnipeg’s Respectful Working and Learning Environment Policy)
  • Deals with student respondents, and puts in place interim measures during investigative proceedings or police investigations
  • Takes steps, as appropriate, to ensure the safety of the campus community

 

This single-step process of triggering the SMRT into action minimizes re-work, parallel processes, and the number of transactions that occur on campuses where there is no clear place for students to disclose sexual misconduct; moreover, it reduces further trauma, by limiting the number of times students need to re-tell their stories of victimization.

Sexual violence is life changing for students, and there is an emotional impact on the employees who care for them; working in a supportive team creates better working conditions for the SMRT to offer a high quality services. The work is based on foundation of respect for all, wellness for students, and campus safety.

Criteria Please submit one paragraph describing how the proposal fulfills each of the evaluation criteria.
Transferability

This SMRT team structure and process for acting is absolutely transferable to other institutions. The University of Winnipeg model has five members on the SMRT - Director of Campus Security, Counsellor with sexual assault crisis program counselling experience, Director of Campus Living/Housing, Director of Student Support, and Executive Director, Wellness and Student Life - while these positions may look different at each institution, most institutions do have a counselling service, someone senior who oversees student supports, and someone senior who oversees campus security that they could ask to form a response team. The key feature is to create a team to inform the response to sexual violence, rather than one individual for a couple of reasons: responding to disclosures of sexual violence is mentally and emotionally draining work, and it is taxing on one person; also, given that we want to support students holistically, we need to consider a variety of supports and services, so it is beneficial to have the key people together from the outset. More attention on a critical case enables us to ensure we have covered off every area of risk and attended to all possible needs. It is important to have a broad, multidisciplinary team that covers a wide range of services and supports on campus and that has leverage to act quickly as needed. The University of Winnipeg has presented at a few conferences and the SMRT is always of interest; we are always happy to share our standard work processes and to help other institutions determine what would work for them. One key enabler was for the SMRT to partner with a community health clinic called, Klinic, to a receive comprehensive, 10 hour training session around compassionate responses to sexual assault. It is recommended that campuses across Canada partner with their local sexual assault centers, as well.

Quality Impact

The SMRT has contributed greatly to better, clearer, more consistent service for students who disclose they have experienced sexual misconduct, and it creates working conditions that are supportive for those who are providing response and support to students.

Students share with us that they see the care, and that they realize this is an institution-wide response to their experience; they can see we are taking sexual violence seriously. They appreciate not having to go to multiple people in administration to find their way, that they feel believed, that they do not have to tell and re-tell their story, and that they are in charge of what happens next. The SMRT is there to offer support and options, but the SMRT does not guide a student's recovery, healing, or justice journey; if and when the student is ready, the student determines what support and reporting options might be right for them.

The SMRT team structure means that not any one person shoulders the entire burden of getting the response and risk mitigation right, and therefore reduces stress on individual staff members. The fact that the SMRT meets only in person (not email or phone) allows me to check in and look for visible cues of strain among the staff members, and offer support for them when required. The students benefit because they see us working together to support them, whether that be setting up counselling sessions, putting in place safe walks to and from class, deferring an exam, or helping them to contact Police.

The qualitative outcomes of offering more consistent, high quality, coordinated responses to students have definitely been been met. In the 2017 MacLeans rankings, The University of Winnipeg was ranked 2nd in the country for preventing sexual violence, in the undergraduate student survey.

The qualitative outcome of creating a structure and environment that allows for a supportive employee experience in offering support has also been met. The phone and team have been in place since March 2015.

Unanticipated outcomes include the fact that faculty members and employees are also calling the line, for advice about what to say to a student, or on behalf of a student, trying to find resources and support. Faculty have had positive experiences with SMRT support, and this has led to educational sessions for faculty members and their department assistants, as well as one-pager tip sheets to remind them what to do in the event that they receive a disclosure. We greatly value this partnership and ongoing dialogue with faculty members.

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This is part of what is given to faculty:

Tips For Faculty: How To Respond When A Student Discloses A Form Of Sexual Misconduct

Statistically, we know that one in four women will experience a form of sexual misconduct. These experiences can be very traumatic for any individual, including students, impacting their ability to eat, sleep and concentrate in class or on their assignments. Over time, trauma can have serious long-term, negative effects on a student’s educational experience. Faculty members can play an important role in helping a student access the support and resources that can help the student begin to heal. The vast majority of people who experience a form of sexual misconduct (sexual harassment, stalking, sexual assault) do not formally report to authorities, and many do not even disclose to someone they trust. A campus environment in which individuals feel comfortable coming forward helps ensure they receive the assistance they need, and supports the institution in its efforts to identify and deal with sexual misconduct on campus.

 

Institutional policies and protocols play a valuable role in creating these types of campus environments. The University of Winnipeg has developed the Sexual Misconduct Protocol, under the Respectful Working and Learning Policy. Another way that the University of Winnipeg has communicated its commitment to take action on sexual misconduct is by creating a 24/7 Sexual Misconduct Response Team (SMRT) to respond to individual incidents of sexual misconduct.

Trained members of the SMRT can be reached at (204) 230-6660 and they will:

  • Offer timely, sensitive and appropriate responses and support
  • Help people develop safety plans
  • Outline support options and refer people to short and longer term on-campus and community services
  • Advocate for and facilitate academic and residence accommodations
  • Explain distinctions between the various reporting options (Winnipeg Police, Manitoba Human Rights commission, and filing a complaint under the University of Winnipeg’s Respectful Working and Learning Environment Policy)
  • Deal with respondents, and put in place interim measures during investigative proceedings or police investigations
  • Take steps, as appropriate, to ensure the safety of the campus community

 

As a faculty member, you may find yourself in the position of receiving a disclosure that a student has been impacted by sexual misconduct. The nature of the first response can have a significant effect on the victim’s well-being and decisions about next steps. It is important to listen, support, and refer victims/survivors to the right person who can provide the help they need.

 

Listen and Support

In some instances, a student may disclose an assault or other trauma she or he has experienced either verbally or in writing. When this happens, the student is letting you know that s/he has made the decision to trust you. This can feel like both an honor and a responsibility. Supportive, non-judgmental responses to disclosures of sexual violence are critically important. When a person discloses, the most important thing you can do is listen and show your compassion and concern. Responses like “I am so sorry,” “What happened wasn’t your fault,” and “How can I support you?” help promote people’s healing and let them know that they are not alone. Responses that appear to blame the victim or attempt to investigate or solve the issue may have the negative impact of causing the survivor to shut down and avoid seeking further help or support.

It’s important to let the student know that disclosures of sexual misconduct ought to be disclosed to the University’s SMRT, so that the right support services can be offered and investigation options explained, and so that the University has a central repository of incidents of sexual misconduct on campus.

Refer

As a faculty member, it is important to understand that your role is not to provide counselling or take on the problem for the survivor. As a “first responder,” a Faculty member should put the student in contact with the UWinnipeg Sexual Misconduct Response Team, or contact the SMRT themselves for guidance on how to proceed (204) 230-6660. Students can sometimes feel reluctant to seek help from strangers, so faculty can opt to make the first contact on the student’s behalf to the SMRT.

As a faculty member you can serve an important role in helping people who have experienced sexual misconduct. By listening, supporting and referring students, you are letting them know that you care about them and that you want to help.

 

 

Productivity Impact

Productivity has been gained in terms of employee work flow: there is one step for activating the SMRT, the case is considered as a holistic whole, and potential support and reporting options are raised in a group setting, rather than having students to navigate a murky process (have to seek counselling, then security, then residence accommodations, then exam deferral etc) all separately and all while dealing with the trauma associated with being sexually assaulted. This simplified process enhances quality of service, and reduces workload for employees and faculty, who might spend time waiting, checking in with colleagues, and asking the student questions that are already known to another employee - when they could be moving forward with compassionate responses and support options. The Advisory Committee on Sexual Misconduct has oversight of all of the work processes, and is pleased with the efficiency in providing support and the ease with which cases can be tracked and reported.

The SMRT is part of a larger, comprehensive strategy at the University of Winnipeg, aimed at preventing and responding to sexual violence on campus. In addition to support from the SMRT, the strategy includes a sexual misconduct protocol, guidelines for responding to students, awareness campaigns around consent, sexual assault, and alcohol use, ongoing education, and a range of investigation options. There was a great deal of consultation in developing this work, and full support from senior adminstration at the outset, which led to ease of buy-in and engagement amont staff and faculty.

Innovation

The University of Winnipeg was one of the first post secondary institutions in Canada to create a comprehensive sexual misconduct protocol, and we did so without pressure from students or government; we created the protocol and the 24/7 SMRT because we believe it is the right thing to do. The University of Winnipeg is the only post secondary institution in Canada that has a 24/7 sexual misconduct phone line and response team - we believe this allows us to offer more effective, timely and coordinated responses to our students. We care about our students, and recognize that disclosures do not always happen at convenient times, but that when someone discloses, it is a moment of bravery and vulnerability. The nature of the first response can have a significant effect on the survivor's well-being and decisions about next steps. We are also innovative in that at every step of our development, we have involved students working alongside at the table; this includes developing awareness campaigns, developing education programs, writing the protocol, developing the guidelines for responding to supporting students after a disclosure of sexual misconduct, reporting stats, and evaluating the work's effectiveness. It is interesting that the most effective, innovative work for us is quite low-tech, and involves sitting at the table with our committed students and employees in dialogue, coming up with meaningful, responsive practices. The U of W's work has been recognized for its innovative and student centred nature, and we were invited to provide the keynote presentation at the 2nd annual National Conference on Campus Sexual Assault Prevention for Higher Education Administrators. I, Jan Byrd presented this keynote, and brought a student to co-present.

Supporting Documents