by Casey MacLeod
Students at Toronto’s York University started the new semester on the wrong foot with a Jan. 11 sexual assualt. Although the Toronto Police Services stated the assault did not occur on campus, the victim was a femaleYork student.
This was the third sexual assault on campus or involving York students in the past five months. It was followed two days later by a fourth, this time in a female student’s home adjacent to university grounds. Police cannot comment on whether or not the two incidents are related.
The recent assaults are part of a larger and disturbing trend. On Sept. 7, 2007 two men broke into several rooms in York’s Vanier College Residence, sexually assaulted two women, and attempted to assault a third.
The two men, both 25, have each been charged with five counts of breaking and entering, two counts of sexual assault, two counts of gang sexual assault and two counts of forcible confinement. The court case is not yet resolved and a publication ban is in place to protect the identities of the victims.
After the September assaults, the York Federation of Students (YFS) began to call for stronger security measures. The university responded by doubling security patrols, increasing residence staff, and increasing Toronto Police Service presence on campus.
The students also organized a Take Back the Night Rally in September and are looking at doing another one in response to the recent assaults.
“In light of recent violence against women on our campus, we feel we need to speak out,” Gilary Massa, VP of Equity for the YFS, said at the rally. “We need to stand together and say, ‘this is not going to be tolerated.’”
Massa told INK the problem is a “systemic one” and efforts need to be put into all areas of campus security, not just increasing staff. She added that the university needs to “stop dealing with these assaults on a case by case basis and start looking at preventative measures.”
While York is dealing with multiple sexual assaults in a matter of months, the University of Regina has had none reported on campus in the past year, according to Pat Patton, manager of security for the university.
There was of course the ‘Peeping Tom’ incident at Luther College, but “that was nowhere near the level of the type of sexual assaults York is seeing,” said Patton.
Patton credits a “very active security staff”, services like the Walk-Along Program and SaskTel payphones with direct lines to the security office, as well as the U of R’s location.
“We’re what I would refer to as a destination, there’s not a lot transient traffic on our campus,” she said.
So far, so good for Patton and her team, but they aren’t taking anything for granted. She said they are constantly watching the trends in campus violence of all kinds and are “always reevaluating” security needs.
This includes keeping an eye on what is happening at other universities such as York and learning how to prevent the same issues from occurring here in Regina.
At York University though, steps clearly need to be taken. Massa said that the YFS and the Graduate Students Association have been pushing for a campus security audit by an external company called METRAC since September.
York officials say they will conduct an audit within the next 60 to 90 days, but the students, who’ve been asking for an audit since 2004, are skeptical.
“I feel that this blatant neglect on the university's part only further entrenches misinformation about sexual assault and safety,” said Shelley Melanson, National Women’s Comissioner for Ontario’s branch of the Canadian Federation of Students.
“It is extremely disheartening to see a university completely ignore the requests of its most important stakeholder; it's students,” she added.
In response to the university’s continued silence Massa said they will continue to apply pressure. “If that means mobilizing the student population, then that’s what we’ll do.”
(Photo by Casey MacLeod)