September 27, 2020

BY LINDSAY TESSIER

The first year of college or university can be an exciting time, but it’s also when young women are most at risk of sexual assault.

“The post-secondary experience can be the highlight of many young people’s lives, but unfortunately, statistics show that every year some will be sexually assaulted,” said Casey Cruikshank, director of the Waterloo Region Sexual Assault and Domestic Violence Treatment Centre.

Many students have never been away from home and are unaccustomed to their newfound independence and some may be experimenting with alcohol and sexual activity for the first time.

“We know from our stats that first-year students are more vulnerable and at risk and we wanted to reach out to them and let those who are assaulted know that we’re here to help,” said Cruikshank.

Last year, the centre helped about 200 victims of sexual assault – a third of whom were between the ages of 17 and 25. According to Statistics Canada, one in three women will experience some form of sexual assault after the age of 16, but fewer than one in 10 are reported to police.

While common safety tips – such as walking with a friend or avoiding binge drinking – are good ideas, they are not guarantees,” said Cruikshank.

“People who follow all the rules still get assaulted,” she said. “It’s the perpetrator who is to blame, not the victim.”

The centre offers services in the emergency departments of St. Mary’s and Cambridge Memorial hospitals. Victims of sexual assault or domestic violence will receive rapid access to a specially trained nurse and social worker. They are treated in a safe space away from the bustle of the emergency room that offers quiet and privacy.

The care team provides emotional support, medical examination and collection of forensic evidence to those who have been sexually assaulted. They also provide ongoing counselling and can link victims to community services. The team also works closely with Waterloo Regional Police to support those who choose to report an attack.

Barb Eichholz, the security and parking supervisor at Conestoga College, said there are many services in place on campus to help keep students safe.

The Walksafe service provides escorts to staff, students and visitors at Doon campus during the school year between the hours of 6:45 p.m. and 10:45 p.m. Monday to Thursday. Walksafe teams are located at Doors 1 and 6 and can escort you anywhere on college property, to the Conestoga College Residence and to nearby homes.

Security staff is also present at both Guelph and Waterloo campuses in the afternoons until midnight. Any member of the college community can request a security escort to their vehicles during that time.

There are phones in each classroom and 16 emergency phones across campus, including in the parking lots. A push of a button will alert security to where you are so they can respond immediately.