Sexual assault on campus is a subject that has manifested quite frequently in the recent headlines. Sexual assault is an issue that has been a concern for over decades, not only on campus but in society in general.
Any discussion around the issue is always complex and sensitive. However, understanding that for any university student campus safety is of utmost importance, Arthur lays out the services which are currently available at Trent, and the university’s commitment to make Trent a safer campus, as difficult as it may be to summarize simply.
“Sexual assault does happen and it is an issue that needs to be handled with care,” said the Clinical Team Leader of Trent student health services, Ruth E. Walker.
It is a very complex issue that tends to be under-reported, but survivors need to feel supported, so we continue to focus on strategies and education to that end, she said.
Walker is the main point of contact on the Peterborough campus for responding to the sexual assault of a student. She will meet with the student in her office, listen to them and support them. She will assess the student’s needs and refers them for further care according to their situation and wishes. If it is a recent sexual assault, she liaises with the women’s health care centre (WHCC) and sends the student to the Peterborough Regional Health Care Centre, where they will meet with a sexual assault response nurse. If it is for a past assault that they are seeking support, she will link them to healthcare and Wellness Centre supports based on their individual needs.
All assault is unacceptable. But what sets sexual assault apart from other campus offenses is that sexual assault is extremely violating, said Walker. It has physical, emotional, and psychological impacts, and it affects the person’s sense of security. Survivors of sexual assault often feel negatively about themselves. Sexual assault is not about the sex – it is about power. It takes something that is supposed to be fun, safe, pleasurable, and enjoyable and makes it a very negative experience, explained Walker.
In terms of campus safety, Trent has improved lighting on campus and has many emergency phones. Trent has a walk-home program, there are trained staff and volunteers in a number of departments who can respond to students, such as security, housing dons, and the team at the Wellness Centre.
As pointed out by Walker, education and awareness on sexual assault starts at the beginning of the academic year. The Wellness Centre provides education and prevention workshops. For instance, this past year all first year students received a presentation that focused on consent, drug facilitated sexual assault, as well as bystander intervention training.
She explained, “Consent is the informed, voluntary, and active agreement to engage in sexual activity. Consent may be withdrawn at any time during a sexual encounter.”
Further, Residence Dons received a session with similar information, tailored to them. In addition, a Sexual Assault Prevention Campaign has been consistently done in the past few years during the start of the academic year.
On a broader scale, Trent has a website (trentu.ca/sexualassault) dedicated to help increase information about the issue. The content development was a collaborative approach with input from different departments, including health services and counseling, noted Walker. The university recognizes that sexual assault is a serious issue, and as such is committed to providing a safe environment for everyone who is on campus, and is a part of the Trent community.
Further, there are multiple supports in place. Students can access help at different points, namely campus security, Trent counseling centre, Trent housing services, or by contacting residence don/college residence life co-coordinators, she said.
Walker stated that everyone involved and concerned should strive to make Trent a place safe from sexual assault. Meanwhile, Trent will continue with prevention and education, continue to raise the issue and equip students with the ability to intervene and improve their understanding of consent.
“Be an intervener, if you see someone might be in an uncomfortable or a potentially dangerous situation, intervene,” requested Walker. “You could ask to talk with them for a minute, and check in with them or directly ask the other person to leave them alone,” and to talk to friends about preventing sexual assault and come up with a plan to be safe if going out together.
She suggested to watch out for oneself and others when partying, not to leave drinks unattended, and to keep an eye out for friends.
It was added that one should be aware of building safety in residential settings, not propping doors open, or to contact campus security if suspicious about someone. Avoid combining sex and drinking, says Walker, for when someone is under the influence of alcohol or drugs they cannot legally consent to sexual activity.
Most importantly, if someone one you know has experienced sexual assault then listen to them, support them unconditionally, help them find resources that can support them, she added.
Talking to Arthur, Associate Vice-President Students, Nona Robinson said, one of the main concerns around sexual assault is ensuring that people are aware of “consent”, such as how to seek consent, what consent looks like, and how to make sure that the partner wants to have sex. Being a victim can be devastating for an individual, she said. And among other things it can also negatively impact individuals’ academic experience at the university.
So, besides making sure that the universities are working to address this issue, it also needs to be seen in the context of broader society since sexual assault is a problem everywhere, says Robinson.
When asked to point out the nature of sexual assault that sets it apart from other campus crimes, she said that, for one, it is largely gendered, and it often happens behind closed doors making it difficult to report. In addition there is still a lot of stigma around it, and in some cases there is even a lack of understanding as to what sexual assault is.
Students should feel safe reporting sexual assaults and in seeking help, and Trent services work with the person reporting to determine what support they need and what steps they want to take. “The nature of sexual assault is so complex and challenging, and the last thing we want is for someone who has been assaulted to be re-victimized,” said Robinson.
Campus sexual assault is going to be different for each case, to some extent. Often it is drug facilitated assault. Quite often when people arrive on campus they are not necessarily as accustomed to drinking as they might be with more experience. In addition, vulnerability and the pressure on students to have sex, which is seen as a social norm, are reasons for sexual assault on campus, she said. But the question she would ask everybody to keep in mind is, “Is it worth having this usually quick sexual encounter if there is a possibility that your partner is going to be very hurt by it, to a point where he or she might end up dropping out of school,” asked Robinson.
“How to prevent it” is the main challenge Robinson said, and strongly emphasized that this is key . A campus community with a strong culture of encouraging consent and of intervening in situations where people might be in danger can make a big difference.
Meanwhile, various information on policies around sexual assault that will help in directing towards appropriate resources can be found at trentu.ca/sexualassault.