How these 3 women are helping survivors they say are left behind by campus sex assault policies

A look at students and experts who have created movements and groups to fill in the gaps they feel are left by sexual assault policies on campuses across Ontario.

CBC Toronto's ongoing Sex Assault on Campus series examines how sexual assault policies affect survivors

Silence is Violence, University of Toronto 

Ellie Ade Kur
Ellie Ade Kur, a board member of sex worker support organization Maggie's Toronto. (Paul Borkwood/CBC)
Ellie Ade Kur, 25

The founder of Silence is Violence at the University of Toronto says she was inspired by her own experiences. 

"As a teenager, I was sexually assaulted by another student at [U of T]," said the PhD geography student. "The counsellor at the time was asking invasive questions like, 'Why would you date someone who would do something like this?' The line of questioning was about blaming and shaming me for something I know wasn't my fault." 

She credits founding the U of T chapter of Silence is Violence, with other branches at York University and the University of British Columbia, because she realized nothing had changed when one of her students disclosed a sexual assault to her.

We're still experiencing the same forms of blaming and shaming and silencing.- Ellie Ade Kur, Silence is Violence, U of T chapter

"[She told me] when she went to report to a particular crisis counsellor, that woman had also given her a similar line of questioning — why would you let someone do this, did you scream, did you yell, did you fight back, and why didn't you lock your door."

Ade Kur said it was the same crisis counsellor to whom she first reported. "Silence is Violence was born from that moment," she said. "Something needed to change. We're still experiencing the same forms of blaming and shaming and silencing." 

U of T told CBC Toronto it's doing "a lot of work in terms of prevention and education for students." 

Silence is Violence is a collective run by and for survivors of sexual assault, and Ade Kur said the group has a first-hand understanding of barriers people face when coming forward to report to a school. 

"So many of us have tried to report to the university and been let down," she said. "So, what we try and do is to channel that anger, frustration, sadness into a meaningful and supportive network for people impacted by sexual assault."

Services provided by Silence is Violence include peer support, as well as legal and community service referrals. The group also does social, political, legal and academic advocacy, and provides education about rape culture and trauma.

Responding to Survivors of Sexual Violence on Campuses, Western University 

Barb MacQuarrie, community director of the Centre for Research and Education on Violence Against Women and Children at Western University, created a workshop on addressing domestic violence at work. (Paul Borkwood/CBC)
Barb MacQuarrie, 60

The community director at the Centre for Research and Education on Violence against Women and Children at Western University in London, Ont., credits her passion for preventing sexual violence and helping survivors to years at universities witnessing women devastated by it. 

So when the province announced sexual assault policies were mandated on Ontario campuses by January 2017, MacQuarrie, in the role for 15 years, received funding to develop a program to train people who receive the first disclosures of sexual assault. 

"It's definitely designed to fill a gap," she said. "We spent a really long time ignoring the problem, denying the problem, minimizing the problem." 

MacQuarrie told CBC Toronto the reason she's focusing on the first disclosure is because "it's an absolutely critical point of intervention.

"The first time somebody tells someone else they were assaulted, the kind of response they get can determine whether or not they tell anyone else again," she said, adding that they need to feel supported, validated and believed. "It can determine whether they go on to seek support." 

We spent a really long time ignoring the problem, denying the problem, minimizing the problem.- Barb MacQuarrie, Western University 

MacQuarrie says sexual violence has a devastating and long-term impact on lives.

Responding to Survivors of Sexual Violence on Campuses uses videos to show people what a supportive response to someone reporting sexual violence looks like versus an unsupportive response.

At least 12 universities have signed on to use the training, including Western, York, the University of Toronto and the University of Windsor. 

The group's training guide launches in January 2018.

Our Turn: A National Student Movement to End Campus Sexual Violence 

(Lisa Xing/CBC)
Caitlin Salvino, 21 

A recent Carleton University graduate said she was frustrated by her school's lack of consultation with students when it developed its sexual assault policy after the province passed legislation requiring all universities and colleges to have them in place by January 2017. 

After a dialogue with the university in which hundreds of students signed and sent open letters to the school requesting changes to the policy, Caitlin Salvino decided start her own movement, Our Turn, citing frustration at the school "failing to implement key recommendations" and shutting down further conversations.

More than anyone, we are the ones living under the policy.- Caitlin Salvino, Our Turn 

"We were told specifically there was no appetite to reform the policy," she said. "We wanted to create a student movement to take the lead and fill the gap." 

Carleton said it "works with students to provide extensive support."

Salvino examined 60 university sexual assault policies across the country and boiled down what survivors and students thought were features of good and bad policies. Based on that, she and a couple of other Carleton students graded each of the universities' policies to prove a point. 

"There's really no clarity on what schools can and can't include [in their policies]," she said. "This should be a conversation with students. It should be something the students approve of and support because, more than anyone, we are the ones living under the policy." 

Our Turn has launched a national action plan signed by 20 student unions across Canada and it engages in advocacy to reduce sexual violence on campuses.

It's also encouraging student unions to grade universities' sexual assault policies, and to create their own policies to help survivors of sexual violence. The group will release a report next month.

Three women helping survivors

6 years ago
Duration 2:33
Featured VideoWhy they're creating programs, movements to help sex assault survivors

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Lisa Xing is a senior reporter with CBC News in Toronto. Email her at