Thousands of students take to the streets of Western Ontario in the early afternoon of Friday, September 17. “Justice for survivors,” “We believe you,” “You deserve safety,” are among the inscriptions on the signs raised high in the sky.
The orientation week hosted on Western’s campus over the weekend of September 11 resulted in over 3o students stepping forward with allegations of sexual assault and gender-based violence in on-campus housing. The institution has been described as breeding a “culture of misogyny.”
According to a Student Voices survey conducted in 2019, 32 per cent of Western students reported that they’d been sexually assaulted in the previous 12 months, and 71 per cent reported being sexually harassed. In accordance with these statistics, and as compared to other post-secondary institutions, Western students have experienced the most sexual violence. This statistic remains persistent today.
As students returned to the institution for in-person learning, male students played into the “rape culture” often associated with the university. Victims, and the thousands of students standing up for their justice, blame Western University’s administration for their failure to protect female students. Often, the university left sophs—mentors to first-year students—to deal with these horrific acts of sexual violence. Many reported seeing male students drugging and raping female students.
Both the Ontario legal system and the lack of organization at the university have forced victims of sexual assault not to file reports. Court cases can take up to two years, and sophs, to whom these incidents are disclosed lack the training or capacity to serve as first-responders.
A presentation on consent through a live-stream, and training modules for sophs, is not sufficient to prevent incidences of gender-based violence at an institution with a history of pervasive rape—a concept the administration of Western University can’t seem to grasp.
So, what’s next? Will students continue to scurry down the halls, afraid of being cornered, or live in fear of being taken advantage of while trying to enjoy their weekends?
“We have a lot of work to do. We have a culture problem that we need to address,” tweeted Western University on September 16.
A shift in the narrative is inevitable for the safety of students. But what happens to those who have been raped? Those whose lives have changed with no return and who will forever struggle to feel safe? Western University is decades late to protecting victims of sexual assault and harassment. But so are many other institutions.