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Frustrated U of O students take anti-rape culture fight into their own hands

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(Globalpost/GlobalPost)

OTTAWA - Administrators at the University of Ottawa are acting too slowly to combat a "rape culture" at the school, say student groups and their supporters.

The university announced last week it would create a task force after revelations of a sexually explicit online chat about the head of the student union, and allegations of sexual assault made against several members of the school's men's hockey team.

But Seamus Wolfe with the university's graduate student association calls the move little more than a publicity stunt.

He told a news conference Tuesday that it's not good enough to simply form a committee that will report recommendations in nine months on how to combat the issue.

"This is not going to happen with a closed-door committee which is really looking at issues of public relations," he said.

"What we need to do is make sure that we talk about these real issues, issues not simply of 'respect' but issues of rape culture."

To that end, a number of groups said they will host a "day of reflection" on the week of Mar. 23 to raise awareness about sexually violent behaviour on and off campus.

University of Ottawa president Allan Rock announced the task force last Thursday after the school had suspended its men's hockey team over allegations they face in Thunder Bay, Ont.

Police in that city have declined to describe the specific allegations, or to identify who they are investigating and who brought forward the complaint.

But Rock said last week that he was frustrated by the fact the university's administration heard about the complaint from a third party.

Only after that happened was the incident reported to police.

The membership and mission of the so-called "Task Force on Respect and Equality" has not yet been announced. Rock said Tuesday it would begin working "soon."

Rock said he welcomed moves by students and others to bring light to the issue, and said the administration would co-operate fully with any student-led awareness campaign.

"The university congratulates the independent group on its initiative and encourages members of the university community to take part in the meetings and town halls that the group plans to organize," Rock said in an emailed statement.

"I will urge the task force to collaborate with the independent group and to look closely at the eight recommendations they have tabled."

The task force is to report back to the university by the fall.

In the meantime, the university has not taken any academic measures against the students at the centre of the probe.

It will be up to the task force to examine the issue of academic punishment for those involved both in the online attacks against the student association president and the hockey team allegations, Rock said.

Gilles Paquet from the University of Ottawa's Telfer School of Management called that gutless, and called on the administration to suspend the five students involved in sexually explicit online chat.

Susan Spronk, a spokeswoman for the association that represents professors and library workers at the university, said she is concerned that the mandate of the task force is too narrow.

"In my opinion, that is really a task force looking at a tree when the students are asking for the forest," said Spronk.

"We want to understand the landscape of this issue rather than one little particular instance."

http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/the-canadian-press/140311/frustrated-u-o-students-take-anti-rape-culture-fight-their-o