*trigger warning for discussion of sexual violence*
The year of 2015 was one that reignited the discussion of sexual violence on post-secondary campuses across Canada and the United States. While activists, students, feminists and scholars have been having these conversations and screaming for acknowledgement of an epidemic happening on our campuses, this topic was thrust into the spotlight this past year. This happened in a number ways including Ryerson’s new sexual violence policy, the airing of CBC Fifth Estate’s School of Secrets and the Hunting Ground, stories of Jian Ghomeshi’s time in post-secondary education, the filing of Human Rights Complaints against post-secondary institutions including University of British Columbia and York University, Lady Gaga’s “Until it happens to you”, and the continuous hard work of activists to put a spotlight on this issue and demand a response from universities and colleges.
Despite greater public awareness of the epidemic of sexual violence on campus and new policies made by some schools, huge gaps remain in addressing sexual violence on campus. These gaps put students at risk, re-victimize survivors, push survivors off campuses, deter reporting and are discriminatory based on gender, considering the majority of sexual assault survivors are woman-identified.
A major gap that post-secondary institutions have failed to address is perpetrators of sexual violence on campus, specifically those that are under investigation or have been arrested and charged.
On January 9th, York University Security Services released a security bulletin about an arrest made in a sexual assault case. A York University student was arrested and charged with sexual assault following reports from two students during the Fall 2015 semester. The security bulletin gave no information about if this student was still on campus and what actions would be taken to ensure student safety.
PhD student and activist, Mandi Gray contacted York University Security Services for more information about the student and the arrest. Mandi is in the process of filing a human rights complaint against York University for how they handled an assault by a fellow student and colleague. The trial beings February 1st: https://www.facebook.com/events/812545115537982/.
The security officer who took Mandi’s call was extremely rude and disrespectful to her and provided no information about whether the student who was arrested would be returning to classes on campus for the Winter 2015 semester. Her concerns about sexual violence, student safety and a serial rapist being present on campus were dismissed and brushed off by the security guard. This is how survivors are treated by post-secondary institutions. Being apart of the York University community, Mandi knows who this student is and he is still on campus.
This student is charged with sexually assaulting two students yet remains on campus. This means that the two women are starting their Winter 2016 semester knowing the man who assaulted them could be around every corner they turn on campus. If they are in the same program, they may be in the same classes as him. If they work for the same department or internship, they may have to share an office with him. How is this fair to these two students?
Rapists being present on campus habe been an issue that post-secondary institutions are unwilling to address. One of the common responses is that the perpetrator’s education will be interrupted if they are removed from campus. Post-secondary institutions are more concerned about a perpetrators’ education than a survivor’s right to safety on campus. Another common response is that post-secondary institutions allow perpetrators to remain on campus to avoid law suits. Again, a survivor’s right to safety is overlooked.
If a student perpetrates sexual violence on campus, they are a threat to student safety and should be treated as such. If a student is arrested and charged for sexual assault, or is under investigation by police or the school, they should not be allowed on campus. While this would be ideal and the safest solution for survivors and students, post-secondary schools have not responded in this manner. They have continued to allow perpetrators to attend classes and be present on campus. If schools are unwilling to remove perpetrators from campus, steps need to be taken to ensure survivor and student safety. If a student is charged with a violent crime against other students, and is going to be on campus, shouldn’t security be monitoring them? Survivors are told to utilize security services to ensure their safety on campus following sexual assault, why not have security walk with perpetrators to ensure student safety? This would protect all students.
If post-secondary schools are concerned about lawsuits from students who are barred from campus, there are ways to address this. Due to the state of our criminal justice system and rape culture, convictions in sexual assault cases are extremely rare, which could open opportunities for perpetrators to sue colleges and universities for wrongfully suspending them and denying them an education. A way to address this concern is to place students who have been arrested and charged for sexual violence on home instruction. They would still be able to take classes but would have to do so online and would not be permitted on campus.
If post-secondary institutions are not going to take the appropriate steps to protect students on their campuses, they need to release the names of those who have been arrested and charged so students can take their own measures to be safe on campus. Allowing serial perpetrators to freely attend classes and be on campus unnecessarily puts students at risk. Safety is a right, post-secondary education is privilege; It’s time for post-secondary institutions to value the rights and safety of every student over the privilege of post-secondary education for one.
Photo from: http://knowyourix.org/campus-dating-violence/