More people affected by sexual violence are accessing services on campus.
In the past year Consent Comes First (CCF), an on-campus resource that supports victims of sexual violence, has been accessed by 150 community members.
“The CCF office has been operational for three years, and every year there has been an increase in service requests,” said Farrah Khan of the Consent Comes First office. In the 2016-2017 academic year, the office received 80 visits.
“This is a good thing because it means more people are comfortable, feel safer to speak about sexual violence,” she said.
Khan agreed that the #MeToo movement may have contributed to the increase.
She said when there is an increase in conversation in the public realm about sexual violence, there is often an increase in reporting.
“People may feel safer to speak about what happened to them,” she said. “They may have more language to articulate what happened to them, and they may feel more empowered because of knowing where the resources are on campus.”
“People may feel safer to speak about what happened to them. They may have more language to articulate what happened to them, and they may feel more empowered because of knowing where the resources are on campus.”
According to SACHA, a sexual assault centre in Hamilton, national statistics show that one in three women and one in six men will experience sexual violence in their lifetime.
Ryerson’s security alerts provide some insight into the nature of sexual violence on campus.
The number of security alerts issued to the community has steadily increased since 2015, according to a Ryersonian assessment of data provided by Ryerson security. The percentage of reported sexual violence has decreased, but only because the overall number of security alerts is higher.
Sexual violence is the “most under-reported criminal activity,” according to Ryerson’s policy statement on sexual violence — reflecting the number of incidents reported by security.
From January 2015 to November 2018, sexual violence represented 24 per cent of security alerts.
“It’s troubling to hear and it’s upsetting,” said Zaynab Dhalla, one of the co-ordinators at Ryerson’s Sexual Assault Survivor Support Line (SASSL). A student-run peer-support line that combats sexual violence and offers confidential support to students.
“As a Ryerson student myself, when you come to school you want it to be a safe space and it’s difficult because the campus is integrated into downtown so we can’t really control who comes in and out.”
Security alerts fall within eight categories, four of which were used to develop a broader category of sexual violence.
The Ryersonian combined sexual assaults, indecent acts, voyeurism and various criminal harassment cases under the term sexual violence, which included scenarios where females had been touched, stalked, followed, or had their privacy invaded in washrooms.
Ryerson security uses risk-based criteria in its alert distribution. The real number of reported incidents of sexual violence remains unclear.
A recent report released by Statistics Canada showed an increase in police-reported sexual assaults from 2016 to 2017, before and after the #MeToo movement went viral.
The report attributed the increase to many factors, including the willingness to report an assault, and a higher sense of awareness of what constitutes sexual assault.
Adam Cotter, an analyst at the Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics at Statistics Canada, co-authored the report, which they started in July.
“We do know from other surveys that the rates of sexual assault are higher among students,” Cotter said.
“We did see that incidents happening on school property was one of the largest areas of increase.They were up 87 per cent in the three months after #MeToo, compared to an average three-month period before. But those numbers come with a little bit of caution.”
However, this could be an underestimation. Students at university or college who choose to report a sexual assault may not necessarily report it to police or other support services if there is campus security or sexual assault centre, Cotter said.
Dhalla from SASSL says it’s great that students seem to be reporting assaults more. However, she says she’d like to see more proactive measures taken by Ryerson.
“There’s one thing about putting all these resources in place,” said Dhalla, referencing campus security and Ryerson’s WalkSafe program.“But what are they doing to prevent that rather than just giving students things after the fact?”
Gill D’Agostino, manager of security and emergency services, said the department is being more proactive to prevent these incidents from increasing.
D’Agostino listed certain departments and initiatives posted on the security website as evidence of proactive measures they’re taking every day, including the crime prevention unit.
A previous version of this story misattributed information provided by Farrah Khan of the Consent Comes First office. The story has now been corrected. We regret the error.