When Andrea Bartlett revealed last week that she has been the target of violent threats, she was exposing a problem that other female student leaders have also faced.
Bartlett, president of the RSU, said she received violent, explicit threats from men over the phone threatening to rape and murder her after the RSU’s controversial decision to refuse official status to a men’s group. Bartlett said that she received calls from strange area codes — some as far away as New Zealand.
In the wake of her statements, another member of the RSU executive said that she too has received threats. Nora Loreto, who was president of the students’ union eight years ago, gave details of threats made against her at the time.
“I hope you die,” voices shouted at her through her office phone, Bartlett said. “I hope you’re infertile.” Many of the callers hung up before she could respond, she said.
Bartlett said that over the two weeks leading up to the Christmas holidays, she received at least 10 irate calls regarding the banning of the group.
Six of them, she said, were “really, really aggressive.”
Rabia Idrees, the RSU’s vice-president equity, said that while she was not targeted as heavily as the president after the decision, she also received some disturbing calls.
“It was more ‘watch what I do to you,’” she said of the alleged messages.
She said that during this time she was afraid for her safety.
This is not the first time that an executive of the RSU has been targeted with violent threats.
Loreto said that she was targeted after speaking out against a white supremacist group that was forming on campus.
“I got a phone threat saying …I was going to be killed,” said Loreto, who remembers answering the call while working alone in the office late one Friday night.
The message was a “very long, explicit message of what this guy was going to do to me,” she said.
Loreto said that she contacted Ryerson security, who listened to the message and told her to contact Toronto police. The police were unable to find who made the threats.
Ryerson Security has not answered interview requests for this story in time for publication.
“I went through a month of feeling pretty afraid,” she said, mentioning nights when she feared walking to her apartment alone.
Bartlett and Idrees also expressed concerns about walking home at night after receiving threats this year. Bartlett had fellow executive members walk home with her some nights.
The current executives say they went to campus security with the threats, but because the threats were made over the phone — and likely coming from out of the country — they were hard to trace, and the women did not have proof of receiving the calls.
“In some cases it comes with the territory,” Loreto said regarding receiving threats while in office. “And that’s not a statement that it should.
“I know that the union broke a lot of women,” Loreto said.
Mohamed Lachemi, interim president of the university, said, “If we get any request (about threats), our response is quick and instantaneous.”
He said that the Office for Sexual Violence, Support and Education, as well as the Office for Discrimination and Harassment Prevention Services, are there to support students facing threats.
“I would encourage anybody who is sent a threat to contact security and Toronto Police Services,” he said.
“Security is our top priority and I encourage them to reach out to us.”
Lila Pine, a radio and television arts professor at Ryerson who is vocal about issues of inequality, said that the fact that threats like this can occur on campus is “deeply disturbing.”
“The university absolutely has a responsibility to respond unequivocally to all threats and violence on campus,” she wrote in an emailed response.
“It is our collective responsibility to create a safe campus and workplace for everyone.”