In a recent study regarding sexual assault on Canadian university and college campuses, more than one in six women reported having been victims of rape or attempted rape within the past year.
One in six
In the study, conducted at the University of New Brunswick, 11 per cent of men reported having participated or engaged in sexually aggressive behaviour within the past 12 months. Even more shocking is that 66 per cent of those men claimed to have committed more than one such act during that same time period.
By the numbers, it appears that only a few aggressors are responsible for the majority of the sexual assaults on academic campuses. Chances are that most students have been acquainted with one at some point in their scholastic lives. With a total population of over 30,000 people, the University of Calgary has naturally seen its share of "problem" individuals, and Campus Security maintains files on each report of sexual assault, whether or not the assailant is already known to the university.
Unfortunately, a recent case of alleged sexual assault at the U of C has revealed that although a person may already be known to Campus Security, little or no action may be taken against the aggressor.
In late July of this year, Sarah, a U of C student, was allegedly sexually assaulted at a party held by a local fraternity. After the disturbing encounter, she said she immediately alerted Campus Security and the university's Sexual Harassment Advisor, Shirley Voyna-Wilson. Sarah, who claims to have pushed to have her aggressor charged by the university with non-academic misconduct, also contacted Calgary Police, who are still investigating her case. After what she claimed to be a questionable hearing process by the university, Sarah claimed her attacker was suspended from the university for a single semester, and that he will be eligible to return to campus in January.
"What shocked me is that [this person] was known by the university to be a problem," claimed Sarah. "Other women have had problems with him that were reported to Campus Security, why wasn't something done about him earlier?"
Report vs Complaint
According to Voyna-Wilson, the U of C Sexual Harassment Office aims to provide victims of sexual assault with options and access to medical attention and other resources.
"When a potential victim approaches us, our first order of business is to provide them with their options," said Voyna-Wilson. "We explain the difference between a report and a complaint, and ask whether or not they would like to involve the police."
The defining difference between a report and a complaint, according to Voyna-Wilson, is that a report is just that--a report. It is simply an allegation of what happened. A complaint, on the other hand, presumes that other steps will be taken, such as a hearing or other investigative procedure.
"In some cases, the victim simply wants to alert us to what happened," explained Campus Security Manager Lanny Fritz. "They don't want to formally charge their aggressor for whatever reason."
Unfortunately, according to Sarah, previous incidences involving her attacker were simply "reported." No complaints were made, and therefore, she claims, serious attention was not paid to the individual.
"Until a complaint is made, there's really not a lot we can do," said Fritz. "We have to protect the rights of the accused as well as the rights of the alleged victim."
Surprisingly, the majority of sexual assaults perpetrated on university campuses are not reported at all. According to the University of New Brunswick report, only half of the people who claimed to have been assaulted in the past year also claimed they reported the incident. Even more disturbing, most claimed to have only told friends.
Very few victims reported having told the police, a counselor, or another person in a position of authority.
So what can be done to minimize cases like Sarah's alleged attack?
"Sexual assault is serious," asserts Sarah. "If someone poses a threat, it should be reported, and charges should be laid. That's the only way to make sure a person is held responsible for what they've done."
More important than reporting assaults, of course, is preventing them. Although not all sexual assaults are foreseeable, there are simple precautions one can take to minimize the risk of being sexually victimized. Staying in well-lit areas, traveling in groups and taking the time to learn the location of emergency phones or services are all simple options that can greatly decrease the risk of assault. Campus Security, in conjunction with the Students' Union Safewalk Program (220-5333) provides volunteers who will walk students to any building on campus.
If you are Victimized
In the event that a person, male or female, becomes the victim of sexual assault, it is important
that the incident be reported to Campus Security, to Shirley Voyna-Wilson of the Sexual Harassment Office, University Health Services or to the Calgary Police. In some cases action may not be taken against an attacker unless the victim comes forward. As in Sarah's alleged situation, many perpetrators have a history of harassment and/or assault that has not yet been seriously addressed.
"Nothing was done about [the person who assaulted me] until it was too late," she said. "Even though there were no complaints against him, several other people have told me about their experiences with him. If people had filed complaints before, he would probably have been caught earlier, and I wouldn't have been assaulted."
Sexual Assault Attacks and Statistics
Information taken from the Survey of Unwanted Sexual Experiences Among Students, Conducted by Larry Finkelman, M.A. Sc., University of New Brunswick.
• More than one in four students reported one or more unwanted sexual experiences within the past year.
• More than one in six women experienced rape or attempted rape within the past year.
• More than half of all sexual assaults happen to women between the ages of 18 and 20.
• Nearly 85 per cent of all victims of sexual assault know their attacker.
• Less than half of all sexual assaults are reported.