The Recent Wave of Sexual Violence on Campus
A recent wave of alleged sexual assaults during Western University’s Orientation Week has brought to light the culture of sexual violence that exists on university campuses across the country.
After the London, Ontario school’s orientation week ended during the second week of September, arrests were made in separate incidents after four students reported being sexually assaulted in the past week.
Social media posts from students at the Medway-Sydenham Hall residence also described dozens of alleged sexual assaults. No reports have been filed in relation to those posts, but London Police have launched an investigation.
Sexual Violence on Campus Across Canada
Although the number of events may seem staggering, it is consistent with research around the frequency of incidents related to sexual violence that occur at postsecondary institutions across Canada. According to a recent study by the Canadian Centre for Justice and Community Safety Statistics, a majority (71%) of students at Canadian postsecondary schools witnessed or experienced unwanted sexualized behaviours in a postsecondary setting in 2019.
It is not only the prevalence of violent incidents that is a cause for concern, but also the culture of silence that exists on campuses where survivors often continue to live alongside those who have victimized them. Less than one in ten women (8%) and men (6%) who experienced sexual assault, and less than one in ten women (9%) and men (4%) who had experienced unwanted sexualized behaviours spoke about what happened with someone associated with the school (such as a teacher, peer support group or someone else associated with either the school administration or a student-led service).
A Call for Creating Safer Campuses
Many schools across Canada mandate education for first year students, but some advocates believe that these interventions come too late. Farrah Khan, manager of Consent Comes First at Ryerson University’s Office of Sexual Violence Support and Education, argues that students need to start learning about issues related to consent from a much younger age. Additionally, Khan claims that more supports need to be put in place for those who bear the responsibility of addressing sexual violence on campus.
It remains to be seen how the recent wave of allegations will shape campus life for students across the country, but it is clear from these events that universities need supports in place to create safer campuses for everyone. The frequency of sexual violence on campuses demands immediate collective action from post-secondary institutions to establish a culture of consent for all students.