Why don’t Canadian universities want to talk about sexual assault?

Nearly one in five women will be sexually assaulted as students. So why are those university policies a ‘patchwork,’ at best?

Columbia Student Carries Mattress Around Campus Until Her Alleged Rapist Is Expelled

Emma Sulkowicz lugs the mattress she says she was raped on around Columbia; her complaint alleges the school mishandled her case. (AP)

When the man who Columbia University student Emma Sulkowicz says raped her in her dorm bed two years ago was found not guilty in September, the visual-arts student started lugging her mattress around campus; she says she won’t put it down until he is expelled. Known around the world as “mattress girl,” Sulkowicz is an icon in the battle against sexual assault on university campuses, and one of 23 students from Columbia and Barnard who filed a federal complaint against their schools alleging their sexual-assault cases were mishandled. Since then, celebrities including Jon Hamm and Kerry Washington have joined the White House’s new “It’s On Us” campaign, which encourages everyone, especially men, to prevent on-campus sexual assaults. Now, California has passed its “Yes Means Yes” law, which makes schools evaluate cases in relation to a new definition of consent as “an affirmative . . . agreement to engage in sexual activity” or risk losing their funding. And the U.S. Department of Education is cracking down on universities for underreporting cases, taking too long to deal with them and not supporting victims in a sensitive way.

Here in Canada, the story couldn’t be more different, and more the same. Very few Canadian universities have policies or university-funded services that deal specifically with sexual assault, even though the prevalence is the same: nearly one in five women will be sexually assaulted as students, according to Charlene Senn, a women’s studies professor at the University of Windsor who is an expert on rape prevention. While some universities have tried to address the problem, new cases are making headlines every month, not to mention incidents underlining a pervasive rape culture on campuses. Last month, Carleton students donned “F–k Safe Spaces” T-shirts, and frosh at both St. Mary’s University in Halifax and UBC in Vancouver were castigated last year for an offensive chant about non-consensual underage sex.

There is a patchwork of policies on Canadian campuses, according to Jessica McCormick, national chairperson for the Canadian Federation of Students, but the facts are clear: Women aged 15 to 24 experience the highest rates of sexual violence in the country, according to a 2013 Statistics Canada report that relied on police-reported data. It also found that women reported 460,000 incidents of sexual assault to social-service providers in 2009, but less than 10 per cent were reported to the police.

Meanwhile, Canadian universities are not required to make public or even keep track of the number of sexual assaults reported to them, making it difficult to get accurate data. For example, campus security at Queen’s University reported one incident of sexual assault in 2013, according to its website.

Universities typically resist conversations about the issue for fear of negative publicity and how it might affect their reputation and ability to raise funds. But in a rare move, McGill University hired Bianca Tétrault earlier this year as its first harm-reduction liaison officer once they discovered three McGill football players had been charged in 2012 with forcibly confining and sexually assaulting a Concordia student. (The cases are ongoing.) Since McGill doesn’t have a sexual-assault policy, that will be Tétrault’s first priority. Any comprehensive university policy needs to have a clear definition of what sexual assault is and a “pro-survivor approach,” she says, meaning that academic accommodations, counselling and other support systems are available for victims from the minute they come forward.

While the University of Windsor also has no sexual-assault policy, its Bystander Initiative, led by Senn, is one of the most respected examples of rape prevention on campuses in Canada. Through workshops, students learn how to recognize sexual assaults, intervene appropriately and support survivors. The university funded the project in 2010, shortly after a bunch of male students were caught, more than once, peering into residence bathrooms as female students showered. But Senn says the university still has a lot of work to do. “I was horrified when I recently typed in ‘sexual assault’ and ‘rape’ into our website and found you don’t get any information telling you what to do or where to go if you’ve been assaulted,” she says. “It’s a very confusing process to find resources.”

It’s even more difficult when professors and staff are nervous about speaking publicly about their sexual-assault research. Liz Quinlan, a sociology professor at the University of Saskatchewan, is leading a study on sexual-assault policies at Canadian universities, but she is hesitant to talk about her work because it’s “impossible to anticipate what the consequences might be.” Her daughter, Lakehead University sociologist Andrea Quinlan, another researcher in the group, says, “We’re working in a climate where some of us are having to reapply to the very universities we’re now speaking about in our research; it carries some risks for us in terms of the stability of our employment.”

In 2009, Joanne Horsley was the victim advocate at the University of Saskatchewan, the liaison between those who had been sexually assaulted and those they had to notify, from professors to campus police. Just 24 hours after she criticized her employer, the student union, for a proposed to change her job description, she was fired. A few months later the position was eliminated. Now the Women’s Centre is its “primary vehicle for sexual-assault awareness on campus,” says the union’s general manager, Caroline Cottrell. Horsley says they were afraid of bad publicity or being sued, but Cottrell says Horsley was fired for “providing counselling and other services that could only be provided under clinical supervision,” and that exceeded Horsley’s mandate. Lawyers had indeed advised the student union it would be liable for Horsley’s actions, says Cottrell.

In Ottawa, Julie Lalonde, a women’s rights advocate who teaches workshops on sexual violence to high school and university students, says schools have a lot to gain by trumpeting sexual-assault services and policies rather than burying them. When she started her master’s degree at Carleton University in 2007, she co-founded a group that lobbied the school for a sexual-assault centre after a female student was attacked in a lab. It took six years for the university to open one. “It’s ironic that campuses don’t want to talk about sexual assault because they say it’s bad for their reputation,” says Lalonde, who also helped run a sexual-assault hotline for Carleton students. “Campuses are motivated by student enrolment and retention rates, yet we saw that students who were sexually assaulted on campus and not supported wouldn’t come back. You improve your retention rate when you offer robust support services.”

Even though education in Canada is not a federal responsibility as it is in the U.S., there are other ways Canadian universities can be monitored and held accountable when it comes to sexual-assault cases. Lalonde says provincial governments could withhold funding from campuses that don’t have adequate support services in place. She is now forming a national group for students, separate from student unions, dedicated solely to addressing sexual assault on campuses. “Such a group is as important as having a federal oversight mechanism in place. Students need to be supported in making this happen,” she says.

Improving campus safety

Through its Campus Safety Audit, the Toronto-based anti-violence non-profit METRAC has identified five factors that improve safety for female students and others at risk of sexual violence, relationship abuse and harassment.

  1. Space layouts, building features and security provisions that increase monitoring and reduce isolation and barriers to access/movement
  2. Robust policies and practices that address dating abuse, sexual assault and other gender-based violence with an understanding that violence most often happens between people who know each other
  3. Training is provided for staff, faculty, first responders and students on violence and how to sensitively deal with survivors/victims
  4. A holistic spectrum of programs and services that integrate prevention, intervention, risk assessment and crisis response
  5. Regular “temperature checks” that measure attitudes on violence, evaluate interventions and monitor unreported incidents

Who’s making steps in the right direction

METRAC has identified universities that are taking promising steps toward reducing gender-based violence:

  • The University of Windsor has launched the “Bringing in the Bystander” program to reduce student sexual assault
  • The University of Guelph has developed a sexual assault protocol
  • Mount Allison University has developed policies and procedures with respect to sexual assault
  • The University of British Columbia’s sexual assault support centre has launched a “Got Consent?” campaign
  • The University of Alberta students’ union has launched a gender-based violence prevention project



Why don’t Canadian universities want to talk about sexual assault?

  1. This is treating symptoms, not the disease.

    We don’t have this huge rape-rate in high school.

    We don’t have it in hospitals, corporations, legislatures….the workplace in general.

    Just at universities.

  2. I think we need to question the numbers presented here. To do that, the first thing is to break down what is meant by sexual assault. Interest groups like to consider ANYTHING someone doesn’t like, or agree to is sexual assault. By calling EVERYTHING sexual assault, you miss the problem.

    Hearing an off colour joke – Sexual assault
    Drunk grabs your ass sexual assault
    guy makes a pass at you – sexual assault
    guy tries to kiss you – sexual assault.

    when everything is sexual assault, you don’t know where to focus resources.

    We need to go back to “old school” with the young men who are acting like this. By old school I mean a good old fashioned “punch to the face” when they get out of line. You would be amazed at how effective such an approach can be.

    • There are more articles coming out of the sexual assault hysteria than out of the Ebola hysteria. It’s so bad now that where it used to be I could exchange a smile with a woman on the street, I won’t even look now. I feel like just looking is an assault. I can’t say, as I used to be able to say to a workmate, “I like your sweater.” or “Hey those are great shoes!” Comments that used to be welcomed and thanked for I now must keep to myself.
      Just yesterday in the coffee room one of the women on my floor had turned herself out spectacularly. I was about to compliment her and then thought “Oh? Could my compliment be a cat-call?”
      Probably. There is a possibility that cannot be denied that even though she had obviously put conscientious effort into her presentation that day, an admirable effort I would have liked to have said, she really didn’t want a compliment at all. A compliment would mean “I want to hate -f**k you.”
      The hell is going on!? Maybe women should hand out “You may compliment me.” cards.
      Am I going off the rails? Uh Yeah! Because this conversation about the war against women has totally lost it.
      I’m so glad I’m in my sixties and sexually disabled *and disinterested* by prostate surgery. The thought of being a young man in this politically contaminated sexual environment is a horror movie.

    • Let me guess – pathological liar, jameshalifax doesn’t have a shred of evidence to support the assertions in his comment because they are entirely fabricated.

      • Lenny….

        Look in the criminal code………………I didn’t write it.

        Look under what constiutes sexual assault,

        Basically….anything a woman hears, sees, or experiences……….can be considered sexual assault.

        One night at the bar….she may be flattered you make comment about her appearance, but the next night, she may be offended.

        These laws also apply to the men, however. Difference of course, I know of very few men who would complain that a woman is paying attention to them.

        • Confirmed – utter fabrication.

  3. The 1 in 5 statistic is clearly nonsense drubbed up by feminist activists. They include women who say that had consensual sex while drunk.

    When feminist rape hysteria takes over, innocent men get railroaded to feed the hungry feminist hydra. Google. Macleans comments doesnt allow links, but go to businessinsider dot com /occidental-sexual-assault-2014-9
    and see the result of this nonsense for yourself.

    Feminists have no qualms conflating real actual rape with drunken consensual sex to further their agenda. Real rape victims are their tokens in a game for power.

    • Hey….the “drunken stupor” defence didn’t work for Rob Ford either.

  4. If believing such nonsense keeps the two of you away from women, the world is a better place.

    • Of course that wont keep me away from women.

      It will however force me to teach my son to keep alot of evidence of consent for each of his sexual encounters, including video, so that he may be protected from the regret-sex-rape accusation, or the he-didnt-call-me-back-rape accusation, and all the other fake cases used to bolster sexual assault statistics and maintain useless feminist “scholars” in “jobs”.

      As for my daughter I will teach her that happiness lies not in a career, but in having a loving family and children of her own. The last thing I would want for her would be to end up at 35 with no family, and few prospects of ever having children, like so many of my generation whose lives have been ruined by feminists lies, and who will die alone surrounded by a dozen or so cats.

      • LOL I hope you’ve picked a good nursing home.

    • Don’t sweat it, Emily….

      I’m certain that your entire life has been spent around men who wanted to stay away from you.

  5. Macleans missed the mark with “Why don’t Canadian universities want to talk about sexual assault?” Check your sources. When radical feminists change methodologies in their (advocacy) research to find what they are looking for, a crisis is created, funding provided, institutions created and jobs for them, the anger is kept up and policies and laws are changed to reflect the ideological findings. It has become an economy in itself.

  6. The Myth of 1 in 5. Radical feminism has become an economy in itself. Find what you are looking for by changing the methodology in the (advocacy) research, create the crisis to reflect the ideology, create institutions and jobs for radical feminists, change policies and laws to fit the ideology and keep it up and don’t acknowledge change.

  7. I have a couple problems here. First off… what exactly is it you’re seeking when school tribunals that are already stacked against the accused STILL find a guy not responsible, and this is deemed mishandling? What, will you not be happy until guilty is the only option? Is that really what you’re seeking, because that’s what it looks like to me, and too a lot of others when they stand behind mattress girl. She got her day in the school tribunal, and it didn’t end in her favor… she got her chance to appeal, and the school rejected it… that should be the end of it for that case. But for some reason, the girl herself, and much of the government, seem to think it’s not… what exactly will they be happy with, other than always getting a guilty verdict?

    And why are schools handling these anyways? The punishments metted out are certainly life destroying, and certainly work as a means of revenge, but they don’t address the problem of rape, because it doesn’t prevent an actual rapist from doing it again… it only gives them more anger and resentment to build on. Ad rape is a felony crime, and should be handled as such by the authorities. No school would ever handle a murder case on their own, or even a regular assault… so why are they being required to handle sexual assault? The more I see of the activism, the more I think it is being implemented for two reasons … 1: to allow women (and lets be honest, this is all about women reporting. male victims of sexual assault are ignored, if not outright buried, like Mary Koss did in the CDC’s NISVS) a means of hurting and destroying me at the point of a finger 2: to acclimate the populace into accepting such animosity to due process, so that in time, it can be implemented into actual law.

  8. I don’t see why they would need to talk about sexual assault… the 1 in 5 stat has been shown false so often that it makes me question the journalistic integrity of McLean’s to allow such a known falsity to be published under their name. They should also question the true intent of their employee Rachel Browne for pushing such an obvious false agenda.

    Canadian Crime Statistics have shown that the highest rate of sexual assault is in Kingston ONT at 97 per 100,000 which is 0.097% this is for the city not just the campus. If that is the highest rate in Canada as a whole, then the math alone disproves the bullshit 1 in 5 statistic.

    Does McLean’s always allow their editors to push our false propaganda without researching their information? I have lost all respect for McLean’s which has obviously fallen prey to the foolish feminist ideology.

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