Trigger warning: The following article contains discussion of sexual violence. If you or someone you know needs support, please contact the Sexual Violence Prevention and Response Office at email@example.com.
This year, hundreds of thousands of students returned to post-secondary campuses across the country. Many were excited to be able to see peers again and for several students, attend their first in-person classes. However, a wave of disturbing stories and allegations in the media put a somber tone on what should have been an exciting return.
In the first week of the semester, Western University made headlines for an alarming amount of gender-based violent incidents, sparking conversations and concerns. For many, it raised the question of why, in 2021, a large majority of students still don’t feel safe and secure walking around on campuses.
The Western Gazette and The London Free Press did a joint investigation into the events that occurred at the end of O-week. Students and upper-year sophs described a chaotic atmosphere, with numerous situations of sexual violence that they were not prepared to handle. One residence specifically had numerous stories of what appeared to be drugged female students. The reports sparked understandable outrage, conversation, and a desire for change. In response, 12,000 students walked out of class on Friday, September 17th, protesting a widespread rape culture that puts everybody at risk.
We spoke with a first-year McMaster student, who wished to remain anonymous, regarding these events and the impact it has on student’s feelings of safety.
“I was shocked,” she described, “It makes me more cautious when I’m out there alone.”
Like most students in residence, it is her first time living away from home. She went on to talk about some of her and her family’s concerns and precautions that are taken; “I’m making sure I’m not going out with people I don’t know, bringing my own drink and informing close friends and family where I am- especially during the night.”
It is evidently an additional concern and consideration among students, who already are navigating the new world of university.
In 2018, 23% of ontario university students reported experiencing sexual assault in that academic year
The Student Voice Survey is sent out to post-secondary students of all genders in Ontario, to learn about common experiences. In the 2017-2018 survey, 23% of respondents reported having been sexually assaulted in that academic year. We reached out to a representative from the Sexual Violence Prevention and Response Office (SVPRO) at McMaster, to understand more about these incidents and the services available to students. The SVPRO representative discussed how the first few weeks in the academic year are a crucial time to inform students about sexual violence resources and prevention. The services they provide include trauma-informed and intersectional response and support, disclosure support, workshops, as well as prevention education and programs.
While there have been drastic changes in the past years and increased open discussions, it is apparent that there is still a long way to go on university campuses. We shouldn’t have to be walking around in a constant state of alarm. We shouldn’t have to think twice about what we wear or what time we’ll be walking home by ourselves. It is unclear when the culture and feelings of safety, or lack thereof will change. Hopefully, by having these difficult conversations and spreading awareness, we can work towards a safer environment for everyone.