By Mallory Clarkson/London Community News/Twitter: @MalloryClarkson
Of all the female students starting college and university this year, one in four will experience sexual violence by the time they finish their academic career.
Louise Pitre, executive director of the Sexual Assault Centre London (SACL), also stressed research shows women aged 16-24 are four-times more likely to experience sexual violence than other age groups.
“Part of that has to do with leaving home, being in a new environment and part of the culture on campus,” Pitre said.
“Also there’s a piece around alcohol and the vulnerability of young people and the culture in fraternities, in sports.”
SACL defines sexual violence as anything from unwanted kissing, touching, oral or vaginal sex to harassment, such as staring, whistling or making inappropriate comments.
In total, only one allegation of a sexual assault was reported to Western’s campus police last year; statistics from Fanshawe College couldn’t be obtained by deadline.
While the numbers couldn’t be broken down by whether victims were post-secondary students, the London police said 152 sexual assaults and aggravated sexual assaults took place last year.
According to the police, 62 of the victims were aged 11-20 and 42 were between the ages of 21 and 30.
For Barb MacQuarrie, community director of the Centre for Research and Education on Violence Against Women and Children, those are “scary” numbers.
“The stats reflect generally the age groups that are most vulnerable,” she said. “But, the under-reporting is really serious throughout all age groups.”
In fact, it’s estimated only about 10 per cent of instances are made known to the authorities.
That’s one of the reasons Allie Newman, a don at one of Western’s residences, said she finds the figures — particularly the university’s — surprising. “I feel like it’s probably higher than that.”
While she doesn’t think it’s a “huge” issue for Western, Newman said it happens. She added the school’s residence staff is trained to look for certain signs from their first-year charges.
“If a girl is really drunk and we notice a guy is taking her home, we’re supposed to go up to the girl, ask if she’s OK and if she knows that person,” Newman said. “We educate everyone — males and females — about asking for consent and giving verbal consent for things.”
Around 80 per cent of sexual violence incidents are committed by someone the victim knows, be it a classmate, friend, a current or former boyfriend or family member. On average, at least 50 per cent of the sexual assaults perpetrated against post-secondary students were also associated with alcohol.
In order to end sexual violence, the I Know Someone campaign was launched at Western, which focuses on bystander intervention, rather than just “punishing perpetrators.”
Jess Rueger, coordinator of the I Know Someone project, said the goal is to stop instances from happening in the first place.
“It’s peer-led — teaching students to recognize, respond and refer,” Rueger said. “If you don’t recognize that it’s sexual violence, then why are you going to report it as sexual violence? A big part of the training for I Know Someone and of the conversation that needs to occur is around what is consent.”
Fanshawe College also has many services in place, said Lois Wey, manager of counselling and accessibility services at the school.
Wanting to assess who is the most at risk and what information about sexual violence should be presented and in what manner, the school conducted a survey with 3,010 respondents last year.
“The issue is not that Fanshawe is a dangerous place, it’s that we’re aware that there is a high incidence of sexual assault at post-secondary institutions,” Wey said.“We wanted to be sure students were adequately aware of the law (and) of services that were available.”
She said the survey found new students were less aware of available emergency counselling than older students. It also stated younger females, in particular, are less likely to know what can be categorized as sexual assault, and older students reported a higher rate of substance-related incidents.
Unlike in the United States — where post-secondary institutions annually publish certain crime statistics and make them available to all students, faculty and staff under the Campus Security Act — Canadian institutions don’t have to monitor or make those figures public.
According to a statement from the Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities, the department doesn’t track cases of sexual violence that have occurred on publicly funded colleges and universities. The ministry is, however, “committed to working with post-secondary institutions to gain a better understanding of emerging campus security issues.”
Pitre stressed the ministry should be clear that certain policies have to be in place around addressing and reporting sexual violence.
“I think that needs to come from the provincial government,” she said. “I think it’s important as a quality indicator that we understand how safe campuses are as a society.”
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