Research to study handling of sexual assault disclosures

Sexual assault research will soon be at the forefront as Ginette Lafreniere, associate professor for the faculty of social work at Wilfrid Laurier University, received $50,000 to explore the conduct and responsiveness of Special Constables Services and Waterloo Regional Police Services.

The research, provided by the Ontario Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services, will look at how the services deal with disclosures of sexual and gendered violence.

This work is building on three years of work conducted by the Change Project, in which Lafreniere’s research group, the Social Innovation Research Group, looked at issues relative to gendered violence on university campuses from 2012 to 2015.

Upon the completion of this research, which involved surveying 520 Laurier students and conducting 50 qualitative interviews, three positions were created.

“One of the things that I learned from the Change Project is that I wish I had spent more time talking to the Special Constables and the police. It seems to me that a lot of the time, these guys are the first responders if someone decides to disclose or want to press charges,” Lafreniere said.

Lafreniere and her research group are working on exploring these questions as well as conducting interviews and focus groups for March 31, in which they will be hosting a “reflecting back” session to present their findings.

Specifically, Lafreniere and her research group will be interviewing 30 Special Constable officers and Waterloo Region police officers and will be conducting five focus groups with different university stakeholders, student leaders, administration, amongst others.

For the long term, Lafreniere said her and her team hope to influence policies, procedures and protocols at Laurier in order to enhance disclosure towards WRPS and Special Constables.

“It’s pre-emptive for me at this point to say what that might look like because we haven’t actually collected the data yet. It will be interesting to see what people have to say, what are the best practices and what needs to be strengthened. From there, we’ll have lessons learned from that experience,” she said.

Having worked with gendered violence and sexual assault since the 1980s, Lafreniere said it’s important to pay attention as it is not an issue that will not be going away anytime soon. With social media and news regarding rape chants, Lafreniere stressed the importance of committing to ensure how gendered violence is understood.

“We need male allies, we need disclosure training and professors. There’s a lot of work ahead of us, so this is just a part of our journey in ensuring that Laurier becomes a leader in addressing this issue,” she said.

In addition, Lafreniere also hopes to address issues regarding hate crimes and micro-aggression on campus such as racist comments.

“There are 1,001 ways in which people can be injured on campus and so my work, and my job is to be able to react and respond to these micro and macro aggressions.”

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