Recent disturbing allegations about sexual assault at post-secondary institutions have re-fueled a conversation around gender-based violence in our communities.
Alleged sexual assaults from Western University in London, Ont., and allegations of illegal drugging at Guelph University in Guelph, Ont., have been shocking, however, sexual violence has been an urgent problem on school campuses for a while.
“It’s terrible and not surprising. We know that universities and colleges have high rates of sexual violence across the country,” said Sarah Wiley, a Violence Prevention Educator at the Sexual Assault Support Centre of Waterloo Region.
According to the 2018 Student Voices on Sexual Violence Survey, about 50 per cent of Ontario post-secondary students experienced sexual harassment the previous year.
“[The stats are] extremely concerning … and that’s just across Ontario,” said Christine Glogovic, a Sexual and Gender-Based Violence Prevention and Response Coordinator at Conestoga College.
A 2019 Statistics Canada report says sexual violence in schools is an under-reported crime for many reasons, such as a lack of trust in the resources available to them.
Certain communities have a higher rate of experiencing violence, such as Indigenous women, LGBTQ2 individuals, and women living with disabilities.
“For people to feel safe and comfortable, we need to address the root causes of the problem,” Wiley said, explaining that misogyny, racism, and transphobia can all lead to sexual violence if not addressed.
The problem often stems from a joke or comment that may seem harmless at the time, media, or the gender norms imposed every day.
Starting a conversation about preventing sexual violence that addresses the importance of consent, is the first step in the right direction.
“The overarching pillars of programming for sexual and gender-based violence are to ensure that students are informed, supported, and included,” said Glogovic.
For students who are victims, knowing the services in place at their schools, having trust in them, and having those supports readily available is imperative.
At Conestoga College, there are many supports in place for victims to protect their right to be safe, along with prevention workshops facilitated by the Sexual Assault Support Centre of Waterloo Region.
Education is the key approach to preventing gender-based violence, not only in communities but in post-secondary institutions too, like the recent Take Back The Night march in Kitchener protesting sexual violence.
“It’s important that we have all the options … available for students, so it’s really unique to what they need or want,” Glogovic said, stressing that students can choose the type of intervention they desire.