September 25, 2020

BY JOANNA DITTMER

“I thought he was my friend.” That is how a 20-year-old University of Waterloo student starts her story; she wished to remain anonymous, so let’s call her Jane Doe.

April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month, and, according to a pamphlet from the Metropolitan Action Committee on Violence Against Women and Children, a non-profit organization in Toronto that works to prevent and eliminate violence against women and youth, two out of three women and one out of six males have been sexually assaulted at some point in their life.

Sexual assault is any involuntary sexual act in which one party is threatened, coerced or forced to engage against their will, or any sexual act to a person who has not provided consent.

A study found 67 to 83 per cent of victims were assaulted by someone they know.

“I met him in a class during my first year,” Doe said.

In the beginning, he wanted to be more than her friend; but when she explained that she was not interested and already had a boyfriend, he seemed OK with just being friends.

In Canada, a woman is sexually assaulted by forced intercourse every 17 minutes.

“We started hanging out outside of class time and in the beginning it seemed like a normal friendship,” she said. “Now that I think about it, there were subtle moves that seemed more romantic than friendship, like longer-than-average hugs and small comments he would make, but I never clued in.”

In cases reported to police, 80 per cent of sexual assaults occur in the survivor’s or perpetrator’s home.

“The night the incident happened, we were in his apartment watching a movie,” she continued. “We’d done this before, and not once did he try anything.”

She said she cannot remember the movie, because it was not long into the film that he began making advances toward her that she did not reciprocate.

When the assault started, she said she couldn’t think of anything else but making it out of the situation safely.

“I kept thinking, ‘I’ll be OK, I’ll make it out OK.’ I knew I had to stay strong,” she said. “I couldn’t stop sobbing. Once it was over, he kept saying that he was sorry.”

She said as soon as she could, she left and luckily, he didn’t try and stop her.

“My boyfriend’s dorm was right down the street from my attacker’s apartment. As soon as I got out, I ran there,” she said. “I didn’t know what else to do.”

Doe said her boyfriend was supportive and never forced her to do anything she did not want to do.

“I didn’t want to force her to report the incident because I was afraid for her,” said the victim’s boyfriend. “At the time, I just didn’t want to make her feel like I was pushing her away … She needed to know that there are people who care about her.”

Doe decided not to report the incident, but she does encourage others to do so.

“It wasn’t the right choice for me, but I know that I would have had the support I needed if I did,” she said.

To this day, Doe has only told a handful of people – her boyfriend, her best friend and her brother.

If you are a victim of sexual abuse and you don’t know where to turn, there are services in Waterloo Region that can help.

The Women’s Crisis Services of Waterloo Region offers a variety of programs to help women and their children move beyond violence and operates two shelters, one in Kitchener and one in Cambridge.

The Kitchener branch is called Anselma House, which can be contacted at 518-741-9184. The Cambridge location is called Haven House, and can be reached at 519-653-2289.

Another support service in Waterloo Region is the Sexual Assault Support Centre of Waterloo Region. They provide individual support for individuals and their families. Their 24-hour crisis and support line can be reached at 519-741-8633.