Colleges urged to act against sex assault

by | Dec 5, 2014 | Life

Jessenia Feijo
life reporter

A quarter century after 14 women were gunned down in a Montreal post-secondary school, change may come.

Ontario Colleges announced last Tuesday that the process to create a province-wide, stand-alone policy to deal with campus sexual assaults has been voted on.

But while it’s a start, one woman says it’s not enough.

Noa Ashkenazi, manager of telephone crisis counselling services at the Assaulted Women Helpline said talks of assault have gone on for years and it should not take this long to make a move on it.

“We all know women who have been assaulted, sexually abused by their partners, harassed on the streets or at the work place,” said Ashkenazi.

Just because some women choose to stay quiet does not mean such problems are not very common, she said.

Women are still afraid and ashamed because the system is still not ready to deal with all the complaints it will receive, Ashkenazi said.

Corinna Fitzgerald, director of Student Life Programs at Humber College, agrees.

“I think there has been lots of instances where post-secondary institutions and the criminal justice system hasn’t worked out for women. I do think there is a perception that nobody will listen and nobody will do anything and we are doing what we can to improve that perception because we do act on these reports,” said Fitzgerald.

The problem is there are usually no mechanisms within these institutions to deal with these serious allegations. No special counselling, no policy, no discussion, Ashkenazi said.

“So the institution, not only post-secondary, but others as well, sends the message that they don’t want to deal with it. And then they are surprised that women are staying silent.”

Most women are staying silent because they get the message, “we don’t want to deal with it,” she said.

To fix this problem at school campuses, Ashkenazi said,  “we should be asking them questions like what they invest, what resources are out there, who are the people you hire to deal with these situations, security, educators, counsellors, experts, policies, training. All of these are important to know.”

Every institution will saythey are doing the best they can but in reality, they’re doing very little, she said.

Fitzgerald doesn’t think Humber can ever do enough.

“Things have changed, especially because it has been in the media a lot lately,” she said.  “I do think we have a specific role to play because this is an age group where the instances and prevalence of violence against women is disproportionate compared to different times in their life. We have an obligation to raise awareness and as well to men to know it is not okay to do this.”

Ashkenazi said it’s important to demand that institutions and federal and provincial governments to fight sexual violence and gender based violence.

Ideas such as therapy for women who were assaulted can be covered under OHIP and would create an enormous positive change for women, said Ashkenazi.

It all starts with getting to know the services that are available to students and getting more involved with building trust with institutions and staff, Fitzgerald said

“We do take these things very seriously and we want to do what’s in the best interest of the survivor first. That is our focus.  I do think there is more work to be done to ensure that women know that is the case and that there are people here who want to help them,” said Fitzgerald.

Humber faculty refers students within these situations to Chantel’s Place, chosen as a partnership with the college because it offers support to survivors of sexual assault and domestic violence.

This is an open place where a victim can come in and seek one-on-one care.

Liz Sokol, a full time counselor at Humber said at Humber this service is taken seriously and many changes have been made

“I don’t think they waited 25 years. I think there has been improvements in the last 25 years. I also think there are incentives that come up episodically where you’ll see posters in the hallways and more coverage than before,” said Sokol.

Sokol said because of ongoing student turnover, it has to be a continual campaign where you can’t assume that one thing can fix it all.

“There’s more that can be done,” Sokol said. “I think it’s a good step for sure. There’s always room for improvement and having policies in place is part of it but having the education and awareness is probably is the most important part.”

To get discussions going, the Assaulted Women’s hotline’s Twitter account has started posting new questions and topics of discussions during the 16 days dedicated to stop violence against women.

“This is to see what people think. Do they think we are not doing enough, what needs to be done, what are their experiences, why are they silent?” said Ashkenazi.

Any women looking for someone to talk to can call the Assaulted Women Helpline for free and confidential support at 1-866-863-0511, Ashkensai said