12/19/2013 04:00 EST | Updated 02/17/2014 05:59 EST

Report on frosh chant that glorified sexual assault calls for code of conduct

HALIFAX - A Nova Scotia university that captured national attention over a student-led chant that glorified sex with underage girls is not alone in grappling with sexual violence, says a new report that also concluded there was widespread confusion about consensual sex.

Law professor Wayne MacKay, who led the three-month study, said one of the most distressing findings was that people at Saint Mary's University and elsewhere don't clearly understand what consent means when it comes to sexual relations.

"Students, in particular, talked about it a lot being a grey area and confusing ... so there's a real need for education there," he said following the release of the 110-page report in Halifax on Thursday.

"(There is) significant peer pressure for young women to be engaged in sex. ... They may want to say no, they may mentally say no, but they may not at least clearly be verbalizing it, nor should they have to."

He said the research painted a grim picture of the position of women on campuses, where they are still not treated respectfully and sexual violence occurs but goes largely unreported.

"Saint Mary's is not alone — the problem of the treatment of women, equity and lack of respect is a much larger social problem, of which this is one manifestation," he said.

MacKay and the panel members came up with 20 recommendations aimed at fostering a "cultural change" at the school to prevent sexual violence and encourage respect after male and female student leaders led an orientation chant that was widely condemned as vulgar and sexist.

MacKay said a code of conduct should establish clear standards of behaviour that would apply to all members of the university community and there should be consequences for people who breach it. He said students should be educated about consent and that the administration should manage orientation events.

The report also calls for a greater profile for women in leadership and faculty positions, and an annual anonymous survey on sexual violence.

University president Colin Dodds accepted all of the recommendations and promised to report every six months on the school's progress.

He conceded that the incident sullied the school's reputation but prompted them to try to become "a model for a safe, respectful learning environment."

"It has been a black eye," he said. "I can't apologize enough for what happened in the past, but we do have to move forward."

The report says the chant at Saint Mary's, along with a similar one at an event at the University of British Columbia, highlighted broad societal challenges that need to be addressed.

"Hypersexualized songs, photos, movies and advertisements are omnipresent. Alcohol and drug problems abound — even among public figures that are supposed to be role models," says the 110-page report.

MacKay added this isn't a problem just among students, referring to Toronto's infamous mayor by saying, "I don't think Rob Ford is in the university category, but others have those issues as well as younger people."

The university set up the panel after a video on Instagram showed student leaders chanting about non-consensual sex to about 400 new students in September. The song spelled out the word "young" with the lyrics, "Y is for your sister ... U is for underage, N is for no consent."

Staci Simpson, a co-ordinator with the school's women's centre, said she was pleased with the report, but that the work has to carry on for years.

"This is something that's in our society — it needs to be put out there, it needs to change," she said. "I think this is a good first step."