More than 70 per cent of Western University students report being sexually harassed
The report includes data from a 2018 survey that was not previously available to the public
As many as 71 per cent of Western University students reported being sexually harassed in the 2017-18 school year, according to a report recently released by the Council of Ontario Universities (COU).
More than 32 per cent of Western students also reported being sexually assaulted during the same time period.
"It's heartbreaking," said Catherine Dunne, vice president of the University Students' Council at Western, when asked about the survey results.
"Students have been saying this is a problem on our campus and across campuses in North America for decades."
The report is based on the Student Voices on Sexual Violence Survey conducted in 2018 for Ontario's Ministry of Colleges and Universities.
While some of the survey results were released in March 2019, the COU report includes additional survey data that was not previously made available to the public.
"Ontario universities recognize the importance of gaining a deeper understanding of the experiences of our students to ensure that our response to this issue addresses their concerns directly," said Eva Busza, a spokesperson for the COU.
Compared to other universities, Western had the most students who reported they experienced sexual assault and harassment on and off campus.
However, the report cautions against comparing universities as the data provided on individual universities does not include information on the demographics of the survey respondents.
"While the problem of sexual violence and harassment is not restricted to any one segment of the population, universities have an important role to play in addressing this social problem, supporting survivors and building safe, welcoming communities," said Busza.
In total, 117,148 students at Ontario universities completed the survey. More than 8,000 of them were Western students.
"We're disappointed, but we're not surprised by the findings," said Jennie Massey, associate vice president of student experience at Western University.
"Sexual violence is pervasive in society, and our campus is not immune from that."
Across all universities in the province, 63 per cent of students reported experiencing some type of sexual harassment, and 23 per cent of students experienced sexual assault.
Students were not only asked about whether they had been sexually assaulted or harassed during the 2017-18 school year, but also specific information on where the incidents took place and their relationship to the perpetrator.
Sexual violence is pervasive in society, and our campus is not immune from that.- Jennie Massey, associate vice president of student experience at Western University
Eighteen per cent of Western students were sexually assaulted on campus, and 58.2 per cent of students said they were assaulted by a fellow student.
Dunne said the fact the majority of sexual assault cases take place off campus speaks to "a broader community problem that we really need to bring all different actors if we're going to solve sexual and gender-based violence."
This is indeed shocking. And all the more reason for needing more sexual violence support & prevention services in <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/ldnont?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#ldnont</a>. <a href="https://t.co/efihP5b7ut">https://t.co/efihP5b7ut</a>—@AnovaFuture
The survey results do not appear to match the actual number of sexual assault and harassment cases reported to Western.
In a report to Western's Board of Governors, the university received just 12 reports each of sexual assault and sexual harassment between May 2017 and April 2018.
The number of sexual assault cases reported to Western increased to 24 between May 2018 and April 2019, while sexual harassment cases dropped to five.
"What we know nationally is that incidents of gender-based and sexual violence are typically underreported," Massey said.
She noted the university was aware that some students were confused about how and where to report their experiences of sexual assault and harassment.
Only two per cent of Western students who reported experiencing sexual harassment told staff at the university's sexual violence centre, while 3.6 per cent of students spoke to an on-campus counsellor and 1.5 per cent went to campus police.
'Call to action'
Since the survey results were provided to Western last March, the university has been working on ways to make it easier for students to report cases of sexual assault and harassment.
"We took [the results] as a call to action," said Massey.
"There has been a number of investments made by the university over the past 12 months specifically to address the ease at which students can reach out for support and file a complaint and seek a resolution."
The investments include two full-time staff dedicated to gender-based violence prevention and survivor support, and the development of a gender-based violence prevention framework.
In addition, all universities and colleges in Ontario are required by the province to report annually on the measures taken to support students who have experienced sexual assault and harassment.
Last year, the province doubled its Women's Campus Safety Grant, committing $6 million toward sexual violence programs on campus. While Western received approximately $169,400 under the grant last year, it's unclear how much will be provided for the upcoming year.
"Over the next few years, an increase in the number of reports would suggest to us that we have a safer campus because people are able to reach out for the support that they need," Massey said.