For crisis intervention or mental distress: Provincial Mental Health and Addictions Crisis Line:

For Confidential support to post-secondary students in Nova Scotia:
Good2Talk: 1-833-292-3698
or text GOOD2TALKNS to 686868

Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner program for the Halifax area:

Get toll-free numbers for other Nova Scotia regions


If you are in immediate danger, call 911.

Get Help Now

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Procedural Fairness

What is procedural fairness and how does it relate to university SV/SA policies?

  • Universities and colleges in Canada are required to make sure their sexual assault investigations are procedurally fair.
  • Procedural fairness includes:
    • Making sure that everyone “whose interests are at risk” gets to participate in the process that leads up to the final decision
    • Making sure that those making the decision are not biased (Cowan, 2020).
  • Different levels of procedural fairness are required for different contexts. According to Cowan (2020):
    • “The more a process resembles a court hearing,” the more procedural fairness is required.
    • More procedural fairness is required when a decision cannot be appealed than when a decision can be appealed.
    • The more serious the potential consequences of a decision, the more procedural fairness is required.
  • How does procedural fairness apply in university SV/SA policies?
  • Although there are likely to be similarities, different universities may practice procedural fairness in different ways. It is important to examine your university’s SV/SA policy to know how it interprets procedural fairness.
  • The Mount Saint Vincent University Policy Against Sexual Assault (Mount Saint Vincent University, 2019), provides a typical example. According to this policy, when a report is filed saying a sexual assault has been committed, the person said to have committed the sexual assault has the right to know:
    • That the report has been made
    • What the report says they have done
    • What evidence exists
  • The person said to have committed the sexual assault must have “an opportunity to respond before a decision is made” (Mount Saint Vincent University, 2019, p. 13)
  • Those investigating the report and deciding on any consequences resulting from the investigation must be impartial. They must not have biases for or against the complainant or the respondent.

Is procedural fairness relevant when a victim/survivor seeks support from a service provider?

  • Rules of procedural fairness only apply when the university conducts an investigation.
  • If a victim/survivor talks to a counsellor, health professional, or other support person about an experience of sexual violence, what they say will not be shared with the person responsible for the sexual violence or anyone else.
  • For more information, see our definition of confidentiality.


What does victim/survivor mean?

  • The term “victim/survivor” is used on this website and in many other resources.
  • This term acknowledges that some people who have experienced sexual violence prefer the term “victim” while others prefer the term “survivor.”
  • Another advantage of this phrase “Victim/survivor” is that it conveys two aspects of the experience of sexual violence that may both be relevant; one side communicated by the term “victim,” the other by the term “survivor.” The meanings of these individual terms are described below.

Which term should I use when talking to someone who has experienced sexual violence?

When speaking with someone who has lived through this experience, it is best to use the language that person prefers, whether the person prefers the term “victim,” “survivor”, or something else.

Why might someone prefer the term “victim”?

“The word ‘victim’ conveys that ‘someone committed a crime against this person, and that they were injured by it’” (Femifesto & Collaborators, 2015). It can be empowering to a person who has lived through sexual violence to highlight the harm this experience has caused.

Why might someone not like the term “victim”?

  • Some people don’t like to use the term “victim” because they feel it makes them sound powerless and ignores their “coping and resistance strategies” (Femifesto & Collaborators, 2015).
  • This term can make it sound like the person is nothing more than the violence they have experienced. In fact, every person is more than the bad things that have happened to them.

Why might someone prefer the term “survivor”?

The term “survivor” can convey the “agency,” “resilience,” and “inner strength” (Femifesto & Collaborators, 2015) people draw on during and after experiences of sexual violence. It can suggest emerging from an experience of sexual violence as a whole person rather than a broken person.

Why might someone not like the term “survivor”?

  • Some people feel that the term “survivor” does not recognize the harm sexual violence causes.
  • Others feel that this term creates pressure to be strong and feel empowered when they may feel wounded.
  • Like the word “victim,” the word “survivor” can make it sound like the person is nothing more than the violence they have lived through. Again, every person is more than the bad things that have happened to them.

What are some alternatives to “victim,” “survivor,” or “victim/survivor”?

  • Femifesto & Collaborators (2015) suggest several alternative phrases that might be preferred because they put the person first rather than making it sound as if the person is nothing but the sexual violence they have experienced. These phrases are:
    • “a person who was subjected to sexual violence”
    • “a person who was sexually assaulted”
    • “a person who survived sexual abuse”
  • The term “complainant” is used in legal contexts like investigations conducted under university SV/SA policies, police investigations, or trials.
  • Another phrase that can be used is “a person who has experienced sexual violence.”

Trauma Informed

What does Trauma Informed have to do with SV/SA policies?

  • Some SV/SA policies, and many of the services associated with them, are described as “Trauma Informed.”
  • Trauma Informed refers to an approach based in the knowledge that many people have experienced trauma in their lives. It involves knowledge about:
    • What trauma is
    • How trauma can appear
    • Helpful ways to respond to people who may have experienced trauma
  • Because sexual violence tends to be traumatic, and because those who are responsible for sexual violence have often experienced trauma, Trauma Informed responses to sexual violence make sense.
  • Ideas about Trauma Informed approaches emerged from the work of feminists responding to intimate partner and sexual violence as well as from medical research about Post Traumatic Stress Disorder following the Vietnam War (Wilson, Pence, & Conradi, 2013).

What causes trauma?

  • According to the Centre for Healthcare Strategies (2021), trauma “results from exposure to an incident or series of events that are emotionally disturbing or life-threatening with lasting adverse effects on the individual’s functioning and mental, physical, social, emotional, and/or spiritual well-being.”
  • An event does not need to be life-threatening to be emotionally disturbing.

How do people respond when they experience trauma?

Responses to potentially traumatic events vary from person to person.

  • Conversations about Trauma Informed approaches often discuss a range of natural responses to traumatic events or memories of traumatic events (e.g., Center for Health Care Strategies, 2021). These include:
    • Fight (fighting back)
    • Flight (fleeing the situation)
    • Freeze (freezing up)
    • Fawn (flattering or catering to the person who is harming you)
  • Traumatic experiences affect the likelihood of encountering a variety of challenges, such as chronic pain or addiction, later on (Center for Health Care Strategies, 2021).
  • Trauma Informed approaches are intended to reduce the negative impacts of trauma (Center for Health Care Strategies, 2021).

What do Trauma Informed approaches involve?


Organizations and researchers list a variety of elements that are part of being Trauma Informed. It is not possible to know exactly how this approach will be used by a care provider just by seeing that the person is identified as Trauma Informed.

Here are some approaches supporting victims/survivors that would be considered Trauma Informed. These draw on the six key principles of a trauma-informed approach listed by SAMSHA (2014):

[~] Maximizing a sense of safety so that victims/survivors are safe and feel safe. There are many ways in which supporters can contribute to a victim/survivor’s feeling of safety.

[~~] One example is being calm while interacting with the person who has experienced sexual violence.

[~~] Another example is asking whether the person would be more comfortable with the door open or closed during an appointment.

[~] Involve victims/survivors in making decisions about what they will do or what will happen.

[~~] An example of this is providing information about the support options that are available and then supporting the person’s choice about which options to use, if any.

[~] Support and encourage resources and relationships that will help the victim/survivor through difficult times.

[~~] An example of this would be asking the person if there is anybody they would like to accompany them during meetings or appointments.

[~] Pay attention to how trauma might be impacting the people in one’s support network, or the service providers working with the person who has experienced sexual violence.

[~~] An example of this might be asking a friend who is accompanying the victim/survivor to appointments how they are holding up, acknowledging the work that friend is doing, and mentioning supports available to them.


What does a survivor-centred approach involve?

According to UN Women (2011), a survivor-centred approach puts “the rights, needs, and wishes of the survivor” first. This includes:

  • Respectful treatment
  • Freedom from victim-blaming attitudes.
  • Choice about how to deal with the violence
  • Information with which to make informed choices
  • Privacy and confidentiality
  • Freedom from “discrimination based on gender, age, race/ ethnicity, ability, sexual orientation, HIV status or any other characteristic.”

How is a Survivor-Centred approach different from a Trauma Informed Approach?

  • The emphasis on the survivor’s empowerment resonates strongly with principles of Trauma Informed Practice.
  • One difference is that using Trauma Informed Principles also means applying these principles when engaging with respondents in sexual assault cases, whereas survivor-centricity focuses specifically on the survivor.

What does the term “survivor-centred” have to do with university SV/SA policies?

University SV/SA policies and descriptions of supports available to victims/survivors of sexual violence often include a statement that they are “survivor-centred.” This makes sense, given that these policies intend largely to meet the needs of survivors.

Sexual Violence/Sexual Assault Policies (SV/SA Policies)

Where are Sexual Violence/Sexual Assault Policies found?

  • All universities and colleges in Nova Scotia are required to have sexual violence or sexual assault policies.
  • Many postsecondary institutions across Canada and beyond have these kinds of policies too.
  • Other kinds of organizations may have SV/SA policies as well.
  • Each SV/SA policy is unique.
  • Video clips on this website provide information about some of the similarities and differences between three Nova Scotian SV/SA policies.

What do university SV/SA policies include?

University SV/SA policies explain the options that the institution makes available to students who have experienced sexual violence and others involved. These policies may answer the following questions:

  • Who can a student can turn to for support following an incident of sexual violence?
  • Will the university investigate allegations of sexual violence? If so, how does one initiate an investigation? What does an investigation involve?
  • How is confidentiality protected by the policy? What are the limits to confidentiality?

Why do universities and colleges have SV/SA policies?

  • SV/SA policies exist in response to widespread recognition that sexual violence is a more common experience among university and college students than among the general population.
  • Student activists have organized to help bring these policies about.

Sexual Violence/Sexualized Violence (SV)

What is the difference between sexual violence and sexualized violence?

  • The terms “sexual violence” and “sexualized violence” are used interchangeably.
  • The term “sexualized violence” is preferred by some because it more clearly emphasizes the idea of violence over the idea of sexuality.
  • Both terms are often abbreviated to SV. The abbreviation SV is used throughout the remainder of this definition.

Okay, what is SV?

The Mount Saint Vincent University (2019) Policy Against Sexual Assault provides a typical definition of SV. It says that SV includes:

  • “Any sexual act” without consent (p. 14)
  • Any act without consent “targeting a person’s sexuality, gender identity or gender expression” (p. 14)

The policy specifies that SV can be:

  • “Physical or psychological” (p. 14)
  • “Committed, threatened, or attempted” (p. 14)

What is the relationship between SV and sexual assault?

  • Sexual assault is a form of SV, but many forms of SV are not sexual assault.
  • Whereas sexual assault is a legal term in Canada, SV is not. However, there are laws against many forms of SV.

What are some examples of SV?

Examples of SV drawn from the Mount Saint Vincent University (2019) and Cape Breton University (2016) SV/SA Policies include:

  • sexual assault
  • sexual harassment
  • stalking
  • indecent exposure
  • voyeurism
  • sexual exploitation of minors
  • trafficking
  • distribution of sexual images or video without consent
  • online sexual harassment
  • cyber stalking of a sexual nature

Which forms of SV do university SV/SA policies cover?

  • Some university SV/SA policies address sexual assault only, while others address SV in general.
  • The definitions of SV can differ between policies, so it is important to check with your university’s policy to be sure of what’s included.
  • If sexual assault is the only form of SV covered by your university SV/SA policy, other forms are likely to be covered under other policies, such as:
    • student codes of conduct
    • harassment & discrimination policies
    • policies governing computer use

Sexual Assault

What is sexual assault?

Sexual assault is one of the forms of sexual violence that exists in Canadian criminal law. Three categories of sexual assault exist under Canadian Law today. As explained by Somerville and Gall (2013), these include:

  1. “Basic sexual assault (ie, sexual touching or sexual intercourse without consent) punishable by up to 10 years' imprisonment;”
  2. “Sexual assault with a weapon or threatened violence, punishable by up to 14 years in prison;”
  3. “Aggravated sexual assault, in which the victim is wounded or disfigured, punishable by up to life imprisonment.”

Section 273.1 of Canadian Law defines “consent for the purposes of the sexual assault offences” as “the voluntary agreement of the complainant to engage in the sexual activity in question” (Government of Canada, 2021). The same section of the law lists the following situations where consent is not possible:

  • “Where the agreement is expressed by the words or conduct of a person other than the complainant;”
  • “Where the complainant is incapable of consenting to the activity;”
  • “Where the accused induces the complainant to engage in the activity by abusing a position of trust, power or authority;”
  • “Where the complainant expresses, by words or conduct, a lack of agreement to engage in the activity;” “Where the complainant, having consented to engage in sexual activity, expresses, by words or conduct, a lack of agreement to continue to engage in the activity.”
  • More information about situations in which a person may be considered incapable of consenting to sexual activity can be found under our definition of consent.

How does the law work for victims/survivors?

The offence of sexual assault is broad enough to encompass “everything from an unwanted kiss on the cheek [to] rape of a stranger” (Davison, 2016). However, it is notoriously difficult to get convictions in sexual assault cases. Moreover, going to court tends to be an emotionally difficult process for victims (Sheehy, 2014).

Do universities define sexual assault the same way the law does?

  • University SV/SA policies in Nova Scotia tend to define sexual assault very similarly to Canadian law. For example, the definition of sexual assault that appears in the Mount Saint Vincent University Policy Against Sexual Assault reads as follows:
    • “Any sexual activity without consent, including kissing, fondling, touching, oral sexual contact, condom stealthing, or anal, vaginal or other forms of contact or penetration, without consent. Sexual assault may be committed by a person of any gender against a person of any gender, regardless of sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, or relationship status” (Mount Saint Vincent University, 2019, p. 3).
  • Some university SV/SA policies address sexual violence, which is a broader category than sexual assault (e.g., Cape Breton University, 2016). Others focus on sexual assault specifically (e.g., Mount Saint Vincent University, 2019).
  • Sexual violence includes sexual assault as well as a variety of other offenses such as sexual cyber harassment and stalking.
  • Where forms of sexual violence other than sexual assault are not covered under a university SV/SA policy, those forms of violence are likely to be covered under other policies such as:
    • Student codes of conduct
    • Harassment & discrimination policies
    • Policies governing computer use

Service Provider

What is a service provider?

  • A service provider is an individual or organization that offers intangible an intangible product. The fact that services are “intangible” means that purchasing a service “does not result in the ownership of anything” (Kotler 1997; as cited in Coulter & Coulter, 2002, p. 35).
  • People seek out service providers for reasons such as their knowledge, skills, credentials, institutional access, and/or time.
  • Usually, service providers are paid for their work, but some service providers may be volunteers.

Is it always necessary to pay a service provider?

Some services are available free of charge in the following situations:

  • Services may be provided free of charge to students by their universities. For example, most if not all universities in Nova Scotia employ counsellors for students.
  • Services may be provided free of charge to citizens or permanent residents. For example, it is free to visit a medical doctor with a Nova Scotia Health Card.
  • Services may be covered or partially covered by private health insurance.
    • Some universities provide private health insurance for students, others do not.
    • Visitors, including international students, often require private health insurance to access services that are free for Canadian citizens.
    • Private health insurance can also cover some services that are not free for Canadian citizens.
    • Health insurance packages vary, so it is important to check your coverage before using a service you hope your insurance will cover.
    • Health insurance can also be very specific. For example, you may have coverage for counselling provided by a psychologist but not by a social worker.
  • Services may be provided free charge by non-profit organizations. For example, the Colchester County Sexual Violence Centre, Antigonish Women’s Centre & Sexual Assault Services, and Avalon Sexual Assault Centre are all non-profit organizations that provide supports for victims/survivors of sexual violence free of charge.

What kinds of service providers are relevant to the CAPSAP project?

  • Many of the recommendations on this website relate to services universities may provide or refer students to when responding to sexual violence.
  • Individual service providers working within or outside universities to support victims/survivors may include healthcare professionals such as:
    • Psychologists
    • Social workers
    • Doctors
    • Nurses, including SANE nurses.
  • Organizational services that can be useful to victims/survivors of sexual violence include:
    • Health and counselling centres
    • “Domestic violence shelters, rape crisis centers, nonresidential domestic violence and sexual assault programs, and hotlines” (Orchowsky & Weiss, 2000, p. 909)
    • “Legal and medical advocacy [and] support groups,” (Macy et al., 2009, p. 361).

Are there service providers who specialize in supporting specific groups of survivors?

It can be difficult to find service providers who specialize in supporting any specific group of survivors. However, some specialized services exist. For example:

  • Organizations that belong to the Anti-Violence Project Network support survivors who identify as “lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and HIV-affected” (NYC Anti-Violence Project, 2021; see also Malinen 2014, 2018).
  • Nisa helpline (n.d.) for Muslim Women connects Muslim women to counsellors, with the option of receiving faith-based counselling.
  • Religious or spiritual advisors, such as chaplains, can be thought of as spiritual care providers (Spiritual Care Association, Inc., 2020). Religious or spiritual advisors are generally specialized in a specific faith tradition.
  • Spiritual care providers might not be familiar with best practices for supporting survivors of sexual violence.
  • Keep.meSAFE is a Mental Wellness Student Support Program that matches students with qualified counsellors from their cultural communities. This service is only available to students of universities that purchase membership with keep.meSAFE.


What does “respondent” mean?

The word “respondent” may be applied to someone accused of breaking a law or violating a policy, such as a university SV/SA policy. For example, The Mount Saint Vincent University (2019) Policy Against Sexual Assault defines a respondent as “an individual who has been accused of sexual assault in a Report filed pursuant to this Policy” (p. 13).


What is Antiracism?

The Smithonian’s “Talking about Race” website describes anti-racism as follows:

  • When we choose to be antiracist, we become actively conscious about race and racism and take actions to end racial inequities in our daily lives. Being antiracist is believing that racism is everyone’s problem, and we all have a role to play in stopping it. […] Being antiracist is different for white people than it is for people of color. For white people, being antiracist evolves with their racial identity development. They must acknowledge and understand their privilege, work to change their internalized racism, and interrupt racism when they see it. For people of color, it means recognizing how race and racism have been internalized, and whether it has been applied to other people of color.
  • According to Kendi (2019), nobody is born racist or antiracist. We can become more antiracist, or more racist, over time. Even people who strive to be antiracist have moments of racism. Part of being antiracist is the ability to acknowledge those moments and use them as opportunities for personal growth (Kendi).

How does antiracism matter for university SV/SA policies and service provision?

Anti-racism is important when it comes to implementation of university SV/SA policies because of the many ways that racism and sexual violence are related. For example:

  • Objectification of women of colour is an element of racism that increases the likelihood that women of colour will experience sexual violence. Researchers have noted objectification of Indigenous women (Pictou, 2019), Black women (Crenshaw, 1991, Duru, 2004), Asian women (Go, Go, & Lee-An, 2021) and Latina women (Clonan-Roy, 2019) as patterns in white-dominant society.
  • At the same time, women of colour are less likely to be taken seriously when they disclose or report sexual violence (Crenshaw, 1991; Duru, 2004; Maynard, 2017).
  • Men of African (Duru, 2004; Maynard, 2017) and of Arabic descent (Shepard, 2021; Mack 2017) have been imagined as sexually dangerous by white society.
  • Duru (2004) writes about how this way of seeing Black men has been present since white people arrived on the African continent. He shows how presenting Black men in this way has been used to justify slavery, lynching, and wrongful incarceration.
  • The examples above can also be thought about using intersectionality (Crenshaw, 1991).
  • Participants in the CAPSAP study suggested that anti-racism is essential so that people of colour can trust service providers or investigators to respond to sexual violence adequately and fairly. Brodie’s (2021) short analysis of our African Nova Scotian Male-Identified focus groups focuses on this point.
  • Anti-racism is part of Culturally Responsive and Healing-Centered practices, which are also approaches recommended by this website.


What is an investigator?

According to the Cambridge Dictionary, an investigator is “a person whose job is to examine a crime, problem, statement, etc. in order to discover the truth” (Cambridge University Press, 2021).

What do investigators have to do with University SV/SA policies?

  • Some university SV/SA policies include the possibility of appointing an investigator to look into reports of sexual violence or sexual assault that has occurred within the campus community.
  • The investigator’s findings about the report may inform decisions about whether the respondent will face consequences for their actions, and what those consequences will be.
  • Check your own university SV/SA policy to see if and how it includes investigators.

Do I need to worry about an investigator becoming involved if I reach out to a service provider for supports?

  • An investigation will not be initiated when a victim/survivor simply looks for support to a counsellor, health professional, or other service provider. With rare exceptions, these service providers are bound by rules of confidentiality.
  • An investigation is generally initiated when a victim/survivor follows the process explained in their university SV/SA policy to request an investigation.
  • In rare situations universities may investigations due to concerns about the safety of students or other members of the campus community (see confidentiality).

Who can be a university sexual violence or sexual assault investigator?

  • Policies that include university investigations of sexual assault or sexual violence reports may include information about who can serve as a sexual assault investigator for the campus community covered by the policy.
  • Investigators may be:
    • Selected from among university staff (internally appointed)
    • Hired from outside the university (externally appointed).
  • Some policies state that investigators may be appointed internally or externally, depending on the situation. It may not be clear in the policy how this decision is made.


What is intersectionality?

  • Intersectionality refers to how the various identities we belong to overlap in ways that shape our experiences, situations, and life chances.
  • Our identities include categories such as race, socioeconomic status, gender, sexual identity, immigration status, and more.
  • It is important to be aware of how intersectionality shapes people’s experiences when working in areas including research, activism, policy writing, and service provision.

Where did the term “intersectionality” come from?

  • The term “intersectionality” was coined by Kimberlé Crenshaw in 1989 to convey how dominant feminist and anti-racist movements often exclude Black women’s interests.
  • Before this term was coined, many feminists of colour were thinking intersectionally (for example, Davis, 1981; Collins 1986).

How does intersectionality relate to sexual violence?

Here are two examples of how intersectionality can be important in thinking about sexual violence that come from a 1991 article by Kimberlé Crenshaw:

  • Example 1: Research has shown that, on average, courts give less severe sentences to men found guilty of sexually assaulting Black women than to men found guilty of sexually assaulting white women. Research has also shown that, on average, Black men found guilty of sexually assaulting white women receive harsher sentences than white men found guilty of sexually assaulting white women. Neither racism alone nor sexism alone can explain these outcomes. Intersectionality involves thinking about the relationships between both.
  • Example 2: In English-speaking Canada and the United States, many non-anglophones are recently settled immigrants, refugees, or undocumented people. Women in these circumstances can be dependent on male partners for information about the world outside the home or to meet basic needs. This creates a difficult situation when the men in question are abusive. At the same time, as of the writing of Crenshaw’s article in 1991, some shelters would not accept women without functional English skills. This situation left non-anglophone women more vulnerable than anglophone women. It is not possible to understand a situation such as this by thinking only about gender, immigration status, or language. Intersectionality involves thinking about the relationships between all three.

Are university SV/SA policies intersectional?

Some university SV/SA policies explicitly recognize that intersectionality is relevant to sexual violence or sexual violence response. It may not be possible to know from a statement recognizing intersectionality whether or how intersectionality will inform how a policy is applied.


What does “Healing-Centered” Mean?

  • The term Healing-Centered Engagement, or HCE, first appeared on May 31, 2018, in a blog posting by Dr. Shawn Ginwright, entitled “The Future of Healing: Shifting from Trauma Informed Care to Healing Centered Engagement.”
  • HCE has been defined as “a progression from trauma-informed practice that combines our understanding of trauma with an explicit political and cultural lens and puts the emphasis on hope, imagination, and community” (Girls Leadership, 2022, n.p.).
  • HCE focuses on “addressing the collective needs of marginalized communities surviving collective traumatization” (Watts, 2020, p. 6).
  • HCE has anti-racist aspects in that it involves active “conscious[ness] about race and racism” and advocates “actions to end racial inequities in our daily lives” (Smithsonian, n.d.).
  • HCE has strong parallels with Culturally Responsive approaches in that both advocate for approaches that are:
    • Strength-based
    • Collective
    • Culturally shaped

Why isn’t Trauma Informed Practice enough?

Ginwright (2018) argues that Trauma Informed approaches tends to have the following limitations:

  • Addressing trauma as individual rather than collective
  • Lacking information about how to address trauma’s “root causes.”
  • Focusing on treating trauma rather than cultivating well-being

What are the principles of HCE?

Ginwright identifies four main elements of HCE. The list below is distilled from his 2018 blog posting:

1. “Healing Centered Engagement is explicitly political rather than clinical” (Ginwright, 2018).

  • HCE sees well-being as:
    • Produced by people’s environments. (HCE also sees trauma as produced by people’s environments.)
    • Enhanced by the work of individuals and communities to change their environments
    • “[A] function of the control and power […] people have in their schools and communities”
  • Ginwright explains that “When people advocate for policies and opportunities that address causes of trauma, such as lack of access to mental health, these activities contribute to a sense of purpose, power and control over life situations.”

2. “Healing Centered Engagement is culturally grounded and views healing as the restoration of identity” (Ginwright, 2018). More specifically, HCE aims to:

  • Nourish healthy cultural identity
  • Cultivate collective healing
  • Considering overlapping collective identities such as “race, gender, or sexual orientation” (intersectionality)
  • Address “spiritual domains of health” as part of a “holistic” approach.

3. “Healing Centered Engagement is asset driven and focuses on well-being we want, rather than symptoms we want to suppress” (Ginwright, 2018).

Ginwright describes HCE as “asset driven” and “strengths-based.” In his words:

  • While it is important to acknowledge trauma and its influence on young people’s mental health, healing centered strategies move one step beyond by focusing on what we want to achieve, rather than merely treating emotional and behavioral symptoms of trauma. […] Healing centered engagement is based in collective strengths and possibility which offers a departure from [focusing] on clinical treatment of illness.

4. “Healing Centered Engagement supports […] providers with their own healing” (Ginwright, 2018).

  • “Healing is an ongoing process that we all need.”
  • Service providers need and deserve healing too.
  • Healing for providers helps nourish well-being in the populations they work with.
  • Building systems that promote the wellbeing of providers should be an objective of policy stakeholders.

How does HCE relate to university SV/SA policies and service provision?

  • Much of Ginwright’s community work that generated the concept of HCE dealt with gender-based violence among youth (Ginwright, 2021).
  • HCE originated as an approach for addressing trauma experienced by youth.
    • Many university students are youth, so approaches to campus sexual violence that are developed for youth make sense.
    • Sexual violence tends to be traumatic, and those who are responsible for sexual violence have often experienced trauma, so approaches to sexual violence that address trauma make sense.
  • HCE is beginning to be applied to work with victims/survivors, who are not always youth (e.g., Watts, 2020; Futures Without Violence, 2021).

Is there scientific evidence for the efficacy of HCE?

HCE has not been tested through research nearly as much as Trauma Informed Practice (TIP) or Culturally Responsive Teaching (CRT) at least in part because HCE is a newer approach.

Where can I find more information about HCE?

More information about HCE can be found by exploring The CARMA Chronicles (2022), a podcast that interviews Healing Centered practitioners about their practices. The podcast can be found here:

Culturally Responsive

What does “Culturally Responsive” mean?

  • The phrase “Culturally Responsive” originated with Geneva Gay’s concept of Culturally Responsive Teaching, or CRT for short.
  • CRT draws on “the cultural characteristics, experiences, and perspectives of ethnically diverse students” (Gay, 2002) to make materials being taught interesting, relatable, and relevant across cultures.
  • CRT addresses inequalities created maintained in countries like Canada and the United States by the fact that teaching is based largely on middle-class European norms (Gay, 2018). In this way, CRT is an anti-racist approach.
  • Gloria Ladson-Billings’ (2005, 2001, 1997) concept of Culturally Relevant Pedagogy is closely related to CRT. Readers who are interested in CRT are likely also interested in Culturally Relevant Pedagogy.
  • Gay’s work has inspired research that applies the idea of cultural responsiveness to a range of professions and services beyond teaching.

What does “Culturally Responsive” have to do with how universities and colleges respond to sexual violence?

  • The recommendations on this website are drawn from conversations about university sexual assault policies that were held among students from diverse cultural groups at universities in Nova Scotia. Much of what we heard from participants suggested a need for culturally responsive practices in sexual violence prevention and response. Our recommendations encourage and support culturally responsive approaches to sexual violence.
  • Preventing and responding to campus sexual violence involves several areas developed by scholars who promote culturally responsive practices. These include Culturally Responsive Sexuality Education; Culturally Responsive Care; and Culturally Responsive Care for victims/survivors, specifically. Each of these areas are addressed below.

What does Culturally Responsive sexuality education involve?

Research-based recommendations for culturally responsive sexuality education include:

  • “Highlighting the role of colonialism in shaping understandings of sexuality” (Le Grice & Braun, 2018).
  • Including content that draws on participants’ cultural backgrounds, values, and world views (Le Grice & Braun, 2018; Mwaria et al, 2016; Roberts et al., 2020; Szlachta & Champion, 2020).
  • Addressing language barriers and matching literacy levels of learners with accessible materials and interpretive services (Mengesha, Dune, & Perz, 2016; Mwaria, 2016).
  • Paying attention to the “concerns and desires” of communities represented among learners “and seeking to reasonably address them” (Mwaria et al., 2016, p. 788).

What does Culturally Responsive Care involve?

Research-based recommendations for Culturally Responsive Care include:

  • Engaging care providers in cultural training to learn about their clients’ “cultural norms and traditions and religious beliefs (Mengesha, Dune, & Perz, 2016, p. 306).
  • Drawing on clients’ “cultural beliefs and values” when providing care (Robinson-Lane & Booker, 2018, p. 3)
  • Referring clients to sources of support identified as trustworthy by community members or publicizing these supports so community members have the option to access them (Roberts et al., 2020; Singh, 2009).
  • Establishing culturally representative peer supports (Roberts et al., 2020)

What does Culturally Responsive Care for Victims/Survivors of Sexual Violence involve?

  • Singh’s (2009) is a rare example of research that explicitly applies CRT principles to culturally responsive care for victims/survivors of sexual violence. Singh’s work, which focuses on South Asian survivors, suggests care providers should draw on knowledge that South Asian survivors may:
    • Have “experiences of sexual abuse and resilience strategies” shaped by culture (p. 371).
    • Have culturally specific concerns and experiences linked to “family and the survivor’s gendered place within their family” (p. 371)
    • “Be more comfortable disclosing with or to a family member” (p. 371)
  • Singh’s findings resonate with the voices of South Asian participants in our study.
  • Her work exemplifies the broader need for Culturally Responsive Care for people who have experienced sexual violence.
  • The concerns and experiences of all victims/survivors are likely to be shaped in some ways by their cultural backgrounds.
  • Exploring this website can help familiarize users with the concerns and experiences students from diverse cultures who participated in our study expressed about sexual violence and university SV/SA policies.


What is counselling?

A counsellor is a type of service provider that specialize in mental health. According to the National Counseling Society (2021) in the United Kingdom, “Counselling is a type of talking therapy that allows a person to talk about their feelings, needs and problems in a safe, structured, confidential setting. The foundation of effective counselling is providing clients with a professional therapeutic relationship based on non-judgmental respect and offering empathic understanding.”

Who can become a counsellor?

Counsellors in Nova Scotia are regulated by the Nova Scotia College of Counselling Therapists (NSCCT). To work as a counsellor in this province, a person must be registered with the NSCCT in one of the two following categories (Nova Scotia College of Counselling Therapists, 2022):

    • “Registered Counselling Therapist-Candidates have completed a graduate degree in counselling or related field and are licensed to practice under supervision of a fully licensed Registered Counselling Therapist who has undergone approved supervisor training.”
    • “Registered Counselling Therapists are licensed to practice independently after successful completion of their candidacy period (2 to 5 years).”
  • Some people may perform roles that are similar to counselling in some ways, like responding to hotline calls. However, a person cannot be referred to as counsellor unless they are registered with the NSCCT.
  • If you are wondering whether someone is a registered counsellor, you can go to the NSCCT’s “Public Access Registry” that lists all the registered counsellors in Nova Scotia:

Is counselling confidential?

Counsellors must keep what their clients share with them confidential, with a few exceptions related to keeping people safe (for more information on this, see our definition of confidentiality).

What kinds of counselling are available?

  • There are many different forms of counselling. If you are interested, you can read about some of them here:
  • While counselling most often involves talking with a trained professional one-on-one, other approaches are also sometimes used. For example, in group counselling, a number of people dealing with similar situations explore problems together and with the counsellor leading the sessions.
  • Counsellors often have profiles online that tell you about the areas in which they are most knowledgeable. Some counsellors specialize in supporting victims/survivors of sexual violence.
  • It can be possible to receive counselling in person, online, or by phone.

Is counselling free, or are there fees involved?


Most if not all universities across Canada provide counselling to students free of charge.

There are also many counsellors who work outside the university, although these services can cost money.

Counselling outside the university may be provided for free or at a reduced rate with private health insurance coverage.

[~] Private insurance may cover sessions with some categories of professionals who provide counselling, but not others. For example, psychologists may be covered while social workers are not.

[~] Some universities provide private health insurance for students.

[~] Private health insurance can cover the cost of basic Canadian healthcare for visitors, including international students.

[~] Health insurance packages vary, so it is important to check your coverage before using a service you hope your insurance will cover.

Services may be provided free charge by non-profit organizations. For example, the Colchester County Sexual Violence Centre, Antigonish Women’s Centre & Sexual Assault Services, and Avalon Sexual Assault Centre are all non-profit organizations that provide supports for victims/survivors of sexual violence free of charge.


What is confidentiality?

  • Confidentiality or keeping something confidential simply means keeping the information to yourself.
  • In institutional contexts such as research, policy, or healthcare, there are often specific rules for how confidentiality must be maintained.

How does confidentiality relate to sexual violence?

  • If someone tells you they have experienced sexual violence, one of the most important ways for you to help is by keeping the information that has been shared with you confidential.
  • It is up to the person who has had this experience to decide who they want to tell.
  • Everyone should hold themselves responsible for confidentiality in this sense.

Who can I count on to keep my information confidential?

  • In most situations, health professionals are required by laws, policies, and/or codes of ethics to keep information about their clients confidential. This is true whether the healthcare providers work for your university or not.
  • Counsellors and therapists are examples of healthcare professionals who may have expertise in the area of sexual violence. All Sexual Assault Nurse Examiners (SANE nurses) have expertise in responding to sexual violence. If you would like to seek confidential support or advice because you have experienced sexual violence, speaking to one of these professionals can be a helpful option.
  • There are some situations in which healthcare professionals are required by law to report information that their clients share. You can ask about any limits to confidentiality before sharing information with a healthcare provider.
  • Here are some limits to confidentiality:
    • Limits to confidentiality that exist so clients get the care they need
      • It is acceptable for healthcare professionals to consult with each other confidentially when necessary for the purposes of providing appropriate care (Canadian Nurses Protective Society, 2021).
    • Limits to confidentiality that exist to prevent harm to the client or others
      • Service providers within and outside of your university are generally required to report client information when necessary to address a risk of serious harm to someone that will happen soon or is likely to happen soon (e.g., Canadian Nurses Protective Society, 2021).
      • All Canadian provinces and territories, including Nova Scotia, have legislation saying that everyone has a “duty report” when a person who is 16-years-old or younger is being abused or neglected (Government of Canada, 2019). Similar rules apply when adults are unable to protect themselves due to a disability are abused or neglected (Government of Nova Scotia, 2021).
    • Limits to confidentiality that can exist when police are investigating
      • When information shared by a client is thought to be relevant to a police investigation, a judge can sometimes order a service provider to share that information (Canadian Nurses Protective Society, 2021).

How does confidentiality matter for university SV/SA policies and service provision?

  • Every university in Nova Scotia has its own unique SV/SA policy. Video clips on this website provide information about some of the similarities and differences between three policies in our province. Confidentiality is an important element in all such policies.
  • University SV/SA policies generally include options for safety measures and accommodations to protect and support the person who has experienced sexual violence.
  • Some information might have to be shared confidentially between university staff to put safety measures or accommodations into place.
  • Many university SV/SA policies allow students to report an incident of sexual violence and ask that the incident be investigated.
    • Information might be shared confidentially between university staff to complete the investigation.
    • Information might also be shared with the person who has been accused of sexual assault. The respondent needs to know what they have been accused of and why they are being investigated for reasons of due process.
  • It is important to understand that students can seek support, advice, or information from counsellors, nurses, or doctors within or outside of their universities without starting an investigation.
  • See your university SV/SA policy to find out how to request or initiate an investigation at your institution.

For more information about some aspects of confidentiality discussed above, visit the following links:

Confidentiality of health information in Canada:

Duty to report child abuse or neglect across Canada:

Duty to report abuse or neglect of a vulnerable adult in Nova Scotia:


What does “complainant” mean?

  • The word “complainant” is sometimes used instead of “victim” or “survivor” in legal or policy contexts. For example, the word “complainant” may appear in investigations conducted under university SV/SA policies, police investigations, or trials.
  • Where this word appears in university sexual assault policies, it applies to the person who files a report for investigation about a sexual assault.

What is the difference between a “complainant” and a “victim/survivor”?

  • The word “complainant” can be perceived as more neutral than “victim” or “survivor,” as it does not assume that a report of sexual assault is true or false. This word works well in legal contexts where procedural fairness is required.
  • The words “victim” or “survivor” are used to describe a person who has experienced sexual assault. These words:
    • Emphasize believing the person who tells you about a sexual assault they have experienced
    • Work well for service providers and other members of the community providing supports for people who have experienced sexual assault
  • It is best to use the term that the person who has experienced sexual violence prefers.
  • For more information, see our definition of “victim/survivor.”