Parents from the Comox Valley successfully brought forward resolutions at a provincial conference to push the B.C. government to update education around sexual assault and harassment.
The annual conference for the BC Confederation of Parents Advisory Councils (BCCPAC) took place at the end of April, and local PAC representatives submitted four resolutions, with well over 90 per cent supporting the measures.
“Parents were pretty lively in their discussions,” said Shannon Aldinger, the parent and lawyer who authored the resolutions.
She says they refer to peer-to-peer sexual assault and sexual harassment, covering mandatory consent education for all students (K to 12), measures to educate students about sexual assault and harassment; a mandatory province-wide policy regarding sexual harassment in schools; clear guidance on how school personnel should respond to student complaints of peer-to-peer sexual violence (harassment/exploitation/assault); and clear guidance on how school districts should collect and assess data concerning student disclosures of sexual violence.
“We have a problem that’s not going away,” she said. “In fact, it may be getting worse…. It’s actually worse than we thought.”
The data, she says, show the problem has continued for girls and boys experiencing sexual violence or harassment. At the same time, there is too little attention paid to consent. Aldinger cites the McCreary Centre’s BC Adolescent Health Survey from 2018 to show rates of sexual violence have not improved in recent decades.
The survey talked to 38,000 young people, from 12 to 19, from B.C. school districts and turned up some alarming results.
The report showed that numbers for dating violence and sexual harassment were trending upward over the previous study in 2013.
The risk is particularly high for girls aged 15 to 17, Indigenous students, LGBTQ+ students or those with a disability, Aldinger adds.
In a news release, she states the province recognized the problem of sexual violence in post-secondary education environments in 2016, and she wants to see similar action now for public school students.
“We get that there’s no quick fix for this,” Aldinger said.
The online ERASE resource for students covers many important topics for young people in the education system, but there is no option when it comes to issues like sexual harassment and violence or the importance of consent.
“When I talk to parents about this, they’re literally stunned,” she said.
In response to receiving the resolutions from the BCCPAC, Minister of Education and Child Care Jennifer Whiteside said the ministry is listening to the voice of students and parents about the role schools play in supporting students to learn about the importance of consent. She said the province is moving forward on these issues in the short term, including making improvements to the ERASE website, which was launched to create safe and welcoming school cultures.
“We will continue to listen to and work with our partners, including parents, teachers, experts and other ministries as we work to improve how the K-12 education system supports students and staff in all aspects of health and safety, and make changes in any way that can help prevent sexual assault, harassment and any non-consensual behavior,” she said.
School District 71 said this spring it had trained sexual health educators such as Jessica Wollen of Shift Education and Kerri Isham of Power Up Education visit secondary schools to work with staff and students. Workshops were available for students in grades 11 and 12, despite the fact B.C.’s physical health curriculum does not cover sexual health topics after Grade 10.
As well, the district has also begun supplementing elementary and secondary school resources with classroom-ready training packages and education kits. The Sexual Health Education leads at local schools are all provided access to Ministry of Education and Child Care’s ShareEdBC resource sharing platform for educators.