Ottawa’s largest school board will debate the implementation of a new child sexual abuse prevention policy on Tuesday night.
The Ottawa-Carleton District School Board (OCDSB) began reviewing its sexual abuse policies in 2018 after a Radio-Canada investigation brought to light the historic sexual abuse committed by three teachers who, over the decades, attacked students at the same Ottawa high school.
But the policy lacks substance, said Peter Hamer, a survivor of sexual abuse by a teacher at Bell High School In the 1980’s.
the Politics would establish requirements for the prevention of child sexual abuse, such as implementing awareness and education programs to prevent and identify grooming behaviors, but it does not provide details on exactly how this will work .
“It’s barely four pages,” said Hamer, a volunteer with the Canadian Center for Child Protection, a charity that tries to reduce child victimization. “The principles are good. [But] it’s really about what are the procedures associated with [it] once the policy is in place?
A board spokesperson was unavailable Monday to answer questions from CBC.
School board counselor Rob Campbell said the policy has some good points — addressing the need for trauma-informed outreach and culturally relevant supports for marginalized communities, for example.
Without this clear policy on what to do with it, sometimes these things don’t get worse.— Karyn Kibsey, Canadian Center for Child Protection
But there are also questions about the intricacies of handling certain situations.
“But what usually happens later is that staff will independently write detailed procedures to implement the policy,” he said. “And the proceedings are not necessarily presented to the board [or] public.”
Aim to eliminate gray areas
“Many councils will have policies around reporting sexual abuse, but there are always these gray areas that might not be addressed in those policies,” said Karyn Kibsey of the Canadian Center for Child Protection, who trains councils. school boards across the country, including the OCDSB.
Organizations themselves do not have the capacity or skills to handle investigations associated with inappropriate behavior.— Peter Hamer, survivor and lawyer
Kibsey said it’s not always clear what should happen if someone observes a boundary violation, and hopes this new policy sets clear parameters for all staff.
“We may tend to think we may have read something too much or recognize that it doesn’t fit into a sexual abuse reporting policy,” she said. Making it simple in a formalized policy is key, she added.
“Without this clear policy on what to do with it, sometimes these things don’t escalate.”
No independent control
Hamer – who is also a board member of VoiceFound, an Ottawa-based charity that tries to make communities safer and support survivors of child sexual abuse and human trafficking – said said he would like to see independent monitoring also part of the policy.
“The key element of any type of policy that deals with childhood sexual abuse is that the organizations themselves lack the capacity or skills to handle the investigations associated with inappropriate behavior.”
He added that organizations can sometimes have conflicting roles and that schools and school boards lack the skills to investigate potential student grooming or child abuse.
“People who are hired to be teachers, principals and administrators are not investigators,” he said.
“Maybe they’ll spell it out in the procedures. But I think that should be the fundamental principle of the policy, just like independent oversight. It’s necessary.”
Support is available for anyone who has been sexually assaulted. You can access crisis lines and local support services through this Government of Canada website or the Canadian Association for the Elimination of Violence Database. If you are in immediate danger or fear for your safety or the safety of those around you, please call 911.