Kitchener-Waterloo

New survey says 40% of Laurier students experienced gendered violence

A new study by researchers at Wilfrid Laurier University says 40 per cent of students surveyed have experienced some form of gendered violence. That means anything from sexual touching without consent to sexual harassment, gender discrimination and homophobia.

13.4% of Laurier students surveyed said they were victims of sexual assault

The Change Project's principal researcher Ginette Lafrenière says the Wilfrid Laurier University needs to help students feel comfortable reporting, and dealing with instances of gendered violence on campus. (Amanda Grant/CBC)

Forty per cent of students surveyed by Wilfrid Laurier University reported that they experienced some form of gendered violence, says a new study.

Gendered violence can be considered anything ranging from sexual touching without consent to sexual harassment, gender discrimination and homophobia.

The statistic is the result of 570 surveys taken by students during a one month period in the fall of 2013 as part of a study called The Change Project, funded federally by the Status of Women Canada.

The study’s lead researcher, Ginette Lafrenière, said she was not surprised by the results of the survey.

"We see those numbers every day in the larger community and larger society that we live in," said Lafrenière.

"What happens on university campuses is simply a microcosm of what happens in larger society."

Of the 570 respondents, 18.5 percent said they'd been discriminated based on their gender, 13.4 per cent had been victims of sexual assault and 6.3 per cent had experienced intimate partner violence. 

Those numbers jumped when students were asked about their friends and roommates. Forty two per cent of students had another student tell them about an experience with gendered violence, with 25.3 per cent knowing someone who was a victim of sexual assault and 36.9 per cent knowing someone who experienced gender discrimination.

Laurier can lead on preventing gendered violence 

Still, Lafrenière says the university has an opportunity to be a leader in combating gendered violence.

"I think when you have good, sound, healthy, authentic relationships with students, faculty and staff, when you leave your ego at the door and you get down to business and you roll up your sleeves, it's amazing what you can do in an academic environment," she said.

As part of The Change Project, Lafrenière and a team of students and professors created a list of recommendations for the university to implement, in an effort to reduce instances of gendered violence on campus.

If you're too drunk to drive you're too drunk to give consent.- Ginette Lafrenière, principal researcher for The Change Project

Those 11 recommendations are divided into four key sections: prevention, student-centred responses, committed leadership and collaboration with community agencies.

"I think that there's a lot to be learned in terms of having healthy authentic relationships with the leaderships of student groups, faculty, staff, university administrators, male allies," said Lafrenière.

"We have a lot of work, in order to be able to do work around consent, for example. One of the things we're doing right now is bystander training on campus and one of the things we say is if you're too drunk to drive you're too drunk to give consent."

University plans to implement study's recommendations

The university is already responding to the challenges laid out by The Change Project, according to David McMurray, Laurier’s vice president of student affairs.

He said the university has established a bystander intervention program, and it has updated its sexual assault protocol, incorporating restorative justice into its approach.

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"It's a very caring community here. This is a place where people open doors for each other, they say hello to each other. I mean we have a good foundation and I think that kind of environmental scan will help us to move ahead." 

Lafrenière said she’s proud of how the university has embraced the findings of the study, but that there is still a lot to be done, especially when it comes to creating a clear support network for students who have experience gendered violence.

"They actually wanted a more of a harmonized blueprint of where do I go, and who do I talk to if I've been sexually assault right down to if I've been diminished in some way and everything in between," Lafrenière said.

And that’s the university’s plan, said McMurray, although it may take some time.

He expects it could take three to five years to fully implement the 11 recommendations of The Change Project.

"This is not something that can be successfully accomplished in 12 months," said McMurray.

"We need to be doing this long after I’m gone from Laurier and I hope to continue what we’ve been doing for some time and provide the leadership and mentorship and support for others." 

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