Healing Gaia

Campus Concerns: Confronting Sexual Assault in Canadian Postsecondary Schools

The fact that a handful of universities are openly admitting that they had higher numbers of reported sexual assaults tells me that these institutions are acknowledging that rape happens.

By Doreen Nicoll
Published February 17, 2015

It's that time of year again when young adults anxiously wait to hear from the universities and colleges they've applied to. In our home this is a very exciting time!

My eldest daughter has been accepted into a Master's program. My son, who worked for two years after high school, received early acceptance, but is waiting until all the offers come in. My fourth child started receiving acceptances from the universities that she chose and will soon have to make that tough final decision.

Meanwhile, my youngest watches and learns because it will be two long years before she experiences the thrill of planning her move away from home.

I've always encouraged my kids to live on campus. Even if they choose McMaster, they know that they'll live in residence first year and then rent a house with friends.

It's their first taste of real independence: a chance to make decisions on their own, an opportunity to experience life outside the comfort zone of family.

So far, my eldest daughter's experience has been fantastic, but not without its trivial trials. I'm the first to admit that we've been lucky.

According to various studies, one in four Canadian women will be sexually assaulted in her lifetime. For every 100 sexual assaults, only six are reported to police. Only one to two percent of date rapes are reported to police. 80 percent of assailants are colleagues, friends or family of the assaulted woman.

It's not about attraction or love, it's all about power and control.

CBC News recently conducted a six-month investigation into sexual assaults on Canadian university and college campuses. A total of 87 schools were asked to reveal the number of reported sexual assaults from 2009 to 2013. 77 schools complied with a full set of data. More than 700 sexual assaults were reported during the five-year period.

So, as a mother of three daughters, should I be concerned? Do I tell my daughters to choose the school with the lowest reporting rate? Should I have them choose McMaster and come home every night?

Let's keep a calm head and look at some of the data first. Back in the day, I attended Ryerson (57 assaults) and George Brown (1). Over the years I've taken upgrading courses at University of Toronto (34), Mohawk (3), and Sheridan (9).

My kids have looked into attending McMaster (8), Guelph (8), Acadia (22), Queen's (9), Western (24), Brock (10), Ontario College of Art and Design (1), Trent (12), and Lakehead (1).

Academic reputation aside, as a woman and a mother, I would have to encourage my kids to go to Acadia, Ryerson, U of T, and Western. No, I'm not crazy. Quite the opposite. I see that these universities are doing something right.

The fact that a handful of universities are openly admitting that they had higher numbers of reported sexual assaults tells me that these institutions are acknowledging that rape happens. It also tells me that women attending these institutions are more comfortable reporting. In short, higher reporting does not equate into more risk on campus.

Quite the opposite: rapes are occurring and we need to make universities and colleges more open and understanding of the tremendous difficulty involved in revealing such a personal violation as rape. Then, we need follow through because most likely the perpetrator is known to his victim and in one or more of her classes.

Too often, lower reporting simply means that the institution is ignoring or covering up the rape that's happening on campus. Universities do this for two reasons: lower reporting makes parents more comfortable sending their daughters to these schools, and schools are more attractive to benevolent financial donors who want their names attached to beacons of higher learning.

We need to learn from the incident at University of British Columbia. UBC reported 16 sexual assaults, but the RCMP on campus recorded 70 assaults over the same five-year period. Perhaps an independent body has a role to play in helping women report assaults and schools to reflect these statistics more accurately.

Doreen Nicoll is a feminist and a member of several community organizations working diligently to end poverty, hunger and gendered violence.

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By CharlesBall (registered) | Posted February 18, 2015 at 11:42:48

This is a tough topic to blog about because being concerned as a parent is correct. So saying anything apparently opposed to that can be seen as reactionary at best and stupid worst. Having said that recent statistics suggest that regardless of the reporting issues, sexual assaults on university campuses in Canada are far below the population outside of the university. See https://ca.news.yahoo.com/sex-assault-re...

I have a few kids in university now (including daughters) and my level of concern is no different than it was when I went to University in the mid 70's. Queen's was bad at that time because of the jails and mental hospitals around campus. Don't know if that is the same today. Ryerson has the worst current stats. My kids primary decision in choosing a school was based on academic criteria, followed by cost. Based on recent data I am not sure that choosing an institution based on rape risk is a primary consideration.

Comment edited by CharlesBall on 2015-02-18 11:44:04

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