The one friend you have in your six to 9 p.m. class can’t make it tonight. You’re left to walk through the Ryerson Quad alone. It’s dark and you feel the urge to turn around every so often just to make sure that you’re still alone. Speed walking to the subway station as quickly as you can, you’re hoping not to run into any questionable characters.
The recent allegations of sexual assault by nine women against CBC Radio’s Q host Jian Ghomeshi have stimulated much needed dialogue surrounding the topic of sexual assault, an issue that affects a large part of the population. According to StatsCan estimates, there are about 472,000 annual assaults committed against women in Canada. Students are among the most vulnerable.
“We [Ryerson] are only a microcosm of a larger society, so if there are problems still out there, there are going to be problems on our campus,” says Ann Whiteside, Ryerson’s Discrimination and Harassment Prevention Officer.
Ryerson’s Office of Discrimination and Harassment Prevention Services administers the discrimination and harassment prevention policy based on the Ontario human rights code, in which sexual harassment is one of the grounds. The motivation is to create a safe working and living environment for students on campus.
Ryerson recently held a sexual harassment and dating violence workshop in partnership with the Discrimination and Harassment Prevention office, where Melissa Showler, a member of Security Services, discussed the steps students can take to seek help if they or someone they know is in an abusive relationship.
“Each case is sort of individual and has its own individual merit, but sitting down with somebody that they trust who is an employee of Ryerson would be a very good step,” says Whiteside. Approaching security, going to Ryerson prevention services, the counselling centre or even the university’s health centre here would all be entry points that would get students support.
Whiteside lists some possible red flags: “Warning signs for dating violence would be the partner displaying jealousy towards your female and male friends. They monitor or restrict your movement and social contacts. They threaten you or pressure you into doing anything sexual.”
Although there is a huge array of warning signs, most of the markers have a lot to do with power, or “an individual trying to exert power over someone else,” says Whiteside. “It can take a while to understand what is happening. So I find that using this kind of a checklist with students just helps them to get thinking.”
The most common question to emerge in the wake of the Ghomeshi scandal is why these women didn’t come forward sooner. In some cases, it can take an individual a while to realize that they are in a harmful relationship.
“They are often getting feedback from society, the media, from their friends that ‘Oh, he just really likes you and there is nothing wrong with his behaviour,’” says Whiteside. “So it really does help them when they come to somebody who has a bit of a background in this and can actually explain the behaviour to them.”
Ryerson students may be familiar with the weekly Security Incidents emails sent out by Ryerson security regarding any recent suspect activity or security breaching activity on campus. The emails, in addition to the ten blue emergency poles dispersed around campus, are used as a reminder for students to stay alert when travelling through the school grounds – especially when by themselves at night.
Whiteside highlights the importance in students knowing what resources are available to them on campus, so they may better protect themselves and seek assistance when they need it.
The “Rape Aggression Defence” for women” and “Resisting Aggression with Defence” for men are two of the self-defence courses offered at Ryerson by campus security.
“Students should also know about the Ryerson safe house,” says Whiteside. The safe house is a service offered to Ryerson students who may become homeless from a whole variety of reasons, one of them being domestic or familial problems where there might have been abuse. The house provides space and support to those who need it.
The Sexual Assault Survivor Line is another resource, created by the Ryerson Students’ Union, open weekdays from 8 a.m. to 1 a.m. It offers survivors of abuse peer to peer support.