Student criticizes Sexual Violence Policy

Brittany Galler, a Carleton student and the vice-president (programming) at the Rideau River Residence Association (RRRA), is criticizing the university’s handling of sexual violence cases after she alleged she was sexually assaulted.

Galler, a second-year law and legal studies student, is calling for Carleton to create a clear traumatic experience academic accommodation policy, and for more funding to be allocated to off-campus counselling services, something she said would have benefitted her while suffering from the effects of being allegedly sexually assaulted in her residence room this summer.

“It was very late at night, after a couple of us had gone out to the mall that evening. I wasn’t exactly coherent at the time. But when I woke up the next morning, I was missing my clothing, and I was in pain, and I knew something was wrong,” she said.

The next day, she said she told her residence fellow who proceeded to call the Department of University Safety.

“Housing Services was just closing up, so they did what they could and offered to move me to a different room [on a different floor],” Galler said.

However, she said the accused also had access to that floor, and Housing couldn’t move her to another building until the following Monday, when its office in Stormont House reopened. According to Galler, it took six days to evict her accused assailant from residence.

“It was only a few days ago when his contract that he had gotten with the school—because he had just gotten hired—was actually terminated,” she added. 

Carleton’s Sexual Violence Policy was passed by the university’s Board of Governors on Dec. 1, 2016, and was met with backlash from students. Multiple open letters criticized the policy for not being survivor-centric enough and lacking an immunity clause to protect victims.

Our Turn Carleton, a sexual violence prevention task force drafted by the Carleton Human Rights Society, Carleton University Students’ Association and the Graduate Students’ Association, was launched in the summer.

Caitlin Salvino, co-chair of the framework, told The Charlatan in July that one of the reasons Our Turn Carleton was created was because the university failed to thoroughly consult students before passing its policy.

However, in an interview with The Charlatan in the same month, former Carleton president Roseann Runte said the process was “highly consultative.”

“Every student had the opportunity to submit comments and suggestions. The final policy received strong student support and was approved by the Board [of Governors],” she stated in an email.

Laura Storey, director of Housing and Residence Life Services at Carleton, said in an email that she could not comment on individual cases in order to protect the confidentiality of those involved.

“We will continue to provide Residence Life staff with training related to sexual violence and will continue to support the University’s work in prevention and education regarding sexual violence,” Storey said.

Galler also said she could not share specific details of the case, as it is part of an ongoing police investigation into the incident.

According to Carleton’s Sexual Violence Policy, both the policy and the formal complaint process are not meant to discourage or prevent individuals from reporting sexual violence to the police. 

But, Galler said that when she requested an investigation through the university, the school would not pursue it because a police investigation was already underway.

The policy also states that appropriate academic accommodations will be made available by Equity Services.

According to Galler, she did not receive any accommodations despite having a medical note and is still expected to pay for her two summer school courses, which she said she dropped because she was denied an extension and online access.

In a screenshot Galler shared with CBC Toronto, a professor told her that she had missed the equivalent of eight weeks of a 12-week course and said she could not make it up online.

“Be realistic about this,” the professor wrote.

Galler said the response she received from the professor made her feel terrible.

“I had higher expectations,” she said.     Smita Bharadia, director of Equity Services at Carleton, said in an email that peer support volunteers are given 35 hours of training to learn how to support sexual assault survivors.

“When arriving at Equity Services, the student is believed and speaks to the Sexual Assault Support Coordinator or an Equity Services Advisor, who provide information on supports and services available and connect the student with these services,” she explained.

Galler said it is important for survivors to be believed, supported, and directed to resources.

“When you first tell someone—if you are open about telling someone—it’s usually not going to be some random person. It’s usually going to be your friend,” she said.

According to Bharadia, Equity Services discusses academic support, a safety plan, a no-contact agreement and any specific needs with sexual violence survivors who come forward, including whether they want to make a formal complaint.

“Carleton is committed to ensuring that all members of the community affected by sexual violence have the support they need to live, work and study by providing a clear and consistent approach to responding to sexual violence,” Bharadia stated. “Equity Services continues to provide more training for students, staff and faculty to support survivors of sexual assault.”

According to Storey, more can always be done to support survivors of sexual violence.

“Until society is free from sexual violence, there will always be more work to be done to support survivors and ensure that those who are affected by sexual violence are treated with dignity and respect,” Storey said.

Galler shared her story with CBC Toronto and on RRRA’s Facebook page. She said she has received support from people she hasn’t spoken to in years and even complete strangers, but added that Carleton has not yet responded to her post and said her case with the university is at a standstill.

“There’s so many people at Carleton who I’ve heard that have similar stories and as a student leader, I think it’s my job to make sure that something actually gets done about this,” she said.

Photo by Meagan Casalino