York University fails to support sex assault victims, woman says
"...I'm not returning to campus until you begin to take this seriously," student tells York University
A Winnipeg woman says she won't go back to York University in Toronto until it can guarantee her safety.
PhD student Mandi Gray said she was sexually assaulted by a fellow student in January. That student has been charged with sexual assault and released on bail but Gray says the university isn't taking her safety seriously.
So rather than return to classes following the end of reading week on Feb. 20, she came home to Winnipeg.
The CBC met Gray, 26, at the Elizabeth Fry Society of Manitoba; a Selkirk Avenue resource centre she worked at as an advocate for women in the criminal justice system before moving to Toronto in 2013.
"I'm back here, where I feel safe and supported by people I've known for a long time," she said.
The alleged sexual assault
Gray, who is employed as a teaching assistant and research assistant at Osgoode Hall Law School, part of York University, could not speak to details of the assault because the investigation is ongoing.
She told the CBC it happened following an informal university gathering on Jan. 30, where she saw colleagues, classmates and friends.
She took a cab to Mount Sinai Hospital, where she was examined by a nurse who specializes in caring for survivors of sexual assault.
And on Monday, Feb. 2 Gray reported the alleged assault to the Toronto Police Service.
Her alleged perpetrator was arrested, charged with one count of sexual assault and released on bail on Feb. 15.
"Now the Crown's pressed charges. I thought in that moment...York University would just get their stuff together. Figure it out; here's the plan, this is how we deal with this," Gray said.
"But it's been the exact opposite."
Nothing in place guiding York University's process: Gray
According to Gray, several factors influenced her decision to put her studies on hold and take a leave of absence from employment at York University on Feb 21.
"...Going to York at this point in time, I feel a great deal of anxiety," she said. "It takes over my entire physical body."
The source of her suffering is knowing she could encounter her alleged perpetrator on campus: On Feb. 22 Gray received a phone call from York University's manager of community relations and crime prevention, who notified her of her alleged perpetrator's schedule so she could avoid areas where he has classes.
The following day, Gray met with the manager to discuss details of the safety plan he was creating for her.
She invited her program director and the director's assistant, both women, to attend the meeting.
Gray also asked a representative from the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE), which represents about 10,000 non-tenured academic staff at both the University of Toronto and York University, including Gray, to be there.
She said having those parties at the meeting put her at ease, and that she had not been comfortable with the thought of a one-on-one meeting with the manager.
"[York University] expected me to go meet with a man alone in an office after I've just been sexually assaulted by somebody that I trusted," she said.
Gray told the CBC the meeting resulted in no answers to her questions, but she was notified emergency measures from York University's Code of Student Rights and Responsibilities would be enacted.
As a result of those measures, her alleged perpetrator was suspended from York University's campus for 10 days.
Hours after the meeting on Feb. 23, York University released its board of governors-approved Policy on Sexual Assault Awareness, Prevention, and Response.
The nature of Gray's studies partly encouraged her to take a break from campus, too.
"I am a tutorial leader in [York University's] department of criminology. I was supposed to mark about 70 papers on sexual assaults next month and that's when I realized that would probably not be good for my own mental health," she said.
But more than any other factor, Gray blames what she calls York University's absence of a concrete, tangible plan to deal with matters of campus-related sexual assault for keeping her away.
"York University as an administrative body did not have anything in place guiding [its] process in terms of explaining to me 'this is how we will deal with this,'" she said.
"My position was I'm not returning to campus until you begin to take this seriously."
Case-by-case basis: York
York University's Vice Provost Students, Dr. Janet Morrison, told the CBC while she could not speak to a specific case of campus-related sexual assault, the university responds to each one differently.
"We treat each incidence individually because each survivor's lived experience is unique and needs to be attended to in a way that puts that survivor at the centre of our decision making," she said.
She provided few details when asked about practical measures that exist outside of the general framework of York University's Policy on Sexual Assault Awareness, Prevention, and Response.
It is Morrison who has the authority to deploy rules outlined in York University's Code of Student Rights and Responsibilities and implement emergency measures to handle matters of campus-related sexual violence.
Gray is not sure what those emergency measures are: As a student, she says she has been unable to access adequate help from York University security services, Sexual Assault Survivor's Support Line (SASSL) or counselling services.
In spite of this and being away from campus, she continues to pay tuition.
No obligation to employ female security officials
When asked the number of female security officials York University employs full time, Morrison said she was not sure, but that there are female security officials employed full time on campus.
In an email to the CBC, a spokesperson for York University said there are 12 female security officials employed at York University out of 75 positions, and it is not mandatory for York University to employ any female officials.
The spokesperson said the schedules for security officials at York University are designed to ensure there are female officials working on each shift.
Gray says that has not been her experience while communicating with York University security services about the alleged sexual assault, and she has only spoken to male officials.
"So what I would like to see from universities more generally speaking is security to have a female body specifically trained in dealing with sexual assault survivors...to work with the women making safety plans," she said.
Morrison says all faculty members and staff, including security personnel, at York University receive training on handling matters of sexual violence.
"Information...about the university's values and commitments to supporting survivors and to holding alleged perpetrators accountable is shared and discussed," she said.
No answer at SASSL
When Gray called York University's Sexual Assault Survivor's Support Line for the first time, there was no answer.
Gray called a second time, and she reports the line offered her numbers to other, off-campus support lines.
"I don't want to seem ungrateful for the time volunteers are putting in, but...I was reaching out to them for information on 'this is what happens at York University after you've disclosed an assault' and they kept wanting to provide me with counselling resources," she said.
"I need real, tangible, concrete procedure in place to assist me with giving me something to fall back on, and not 'oh, maybe you can call this person and this person and have you seen a counsellor yet?'"
Morrison says York University is proud of its student leadership on the issue of campus-related sexual violence, and particularly of the work of the student-run SASSL.
"...They are exceptionally good, well-trained peer supports and leaders on the issue of survivor-focused response," she said.
On Feb. 27, Gray says she called SASSL for the third time and left a message requesting any assistance possible. Her call was not returned.
Referral elsewhere from York counselling services
Having learned the wait time to see a counsellor through the Women's College Hospital is between six and seven weeks, Gray called York University's campus counselling services.
Gray told the CBC the person who answered her call said she would have to come to campus to make an appointment.
"I was stern and said no, I'm not coming all the way there to just make an appointment. I was raped. I need to talk to someone," she said.
Gray was able to speak to an emergency counsellor over the phone, but she says that person told her she is eligible for emergency counselling services only, and it was because her case is before the courts.
She offered Gray a referral to off-campus counselling services.
Morrison told the CBC that York University provides counselling services to all undergraduate and graduate students, regardless of legal proceedings.
She said York University counselling services provide referrals, too.
"If there are parallel criminal proceedings underway, a student should be afforded the option...of a community agency that is also positioned, trained in providing legal support."
York University response 'a huge oversight,' says expert
Back at the Elizabeth Fry Society, Tracy Booth, executive director and expert on women and the law, told the CBC that York University's reporting apparatus, and that of the Canadian criminal justice system, is a problem.
"What should happen with policy and procedure development is that you always look at the worst case scenarios and so that your policy is developed out of that," she said.
"[York University's response to Gray and the overall reporting apparatus in Canada] just seems like a huge oversight."
Booth says the only reasonable explanation for an oversight as significant as the one she sees in the criminal justice system is that structural barriers are created so women won't report.
On Feb. 26, a CUPE representative advised Gray to inquire about the date of an upcoming conflict resolution tribunal meeting she is scheduled to attend at York University.
Gray told the CBC she was not aware of the meeting prior to speaking to the representative.
"I called every single person I could think of to get answers," she said. "I don't even know how I would have been notified had she [the CUPE representative] not mentioned the tribunal that I would need to attend.
After asking around, Gray learned the meeting is scheduled for March 9, but no time has been set.
She called York University's Office of Student Conflict Resolution (OSCR) to express disappointment over learning she is expected to attend the meeting, where her alleged perpetrator is expected to be present in person, via Skype or phone.
Gray says any appearance by her alleged perpetrator would be a violation of his bail conditions.
Before the meeting, Gray plans to return to Toronto and wait to see what York University will do to help her resume studies and employment.
In the meantime, Gray, through an open letter to York University she has sent to the university's president, Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne and 183 other parties, and by identifying herself publicly as a survivor of sexual assault, is working to move things forward.
"I hope I can remove some of the stigma...in terms of the nightmare it is to not even just deal with the criminal justice system, but university administration on top of all of it."
"In terms of actually processing [my feelings], I haven't had a chance," she said.
"All of my emotional labour goes into fighting with York and waiting, and waiting."