Women’s Initiatives For Safer Environments - Initiatives des Femmes pour la Sécurité Environnementale

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Campuses need to do more to prevent sexual and physical assaults

By: Kristy-Lu, WISE Director

February 2020

It’s that time of year again for post-secondary students as they head back into classes after Winter Break. And as more and more students complete their term this year, campus becomes increasingly deserted, leaving many walking to bus stops alone after a final exam or late night of studying. While post-secondaries try their best to keep campuses safe, we are still seeing physical and sexual assaults on campus. In fact, 63 per cent of people in a recent survey have experienced sexual harassment on campuses in Ontario. Clearly, there is still much more to do. This issue is not new and something women in particular have always had to be cognisant of – receiving advice on how to protect themselves from a variety of different sources. It is thus an even more appropriate time as we look back on Take Back the Night and the December 6th vigil, city marches aiming to keep our streets safer for all women  We have these events to remind us how far we've come and just how far we have yet to go. This is especially true for university/college campuses.

Most of the advice out there about sexual assault on campuses is focused on what YOU, the individual, can do to protect yourself. While there are many things out there that can be good to know and in the worst cases, utilize, more emphasis should be placed on the campuses themselves on how to protect their students. What can a campus do to protect their students? There are many options. They can utilize educational campaigns such as social media, peer educators, and bystander training. Campuses are doing more partnerships and studies, such as OCTEVAWs campus safety campaign, #JustGotWeird.

How do campuses physically lay everything out? Are there spaces people can easily hide? How are campus safety staff trained? How do they respond to sexual assaults? How are investigations done? Do they cooperate with the police? Do they discourage you from going to the police? What are the consequences for those commit assaults? What kind of counseling services do they offer? The list goes on.

Until post-secondaries change the environment, assaults will not end. Until post-secondaries are willing to put themselves in the spotlight, to show the mistakes they have made and be willing to fix it, change won’t happen.

WISE’s program Community Safety Audits help people evaluate safety concerns in an area to identify changes that could be made to render it safer for not just women, but for all. How does it work? Participants walk around a designated area, like a campus, pathway, tunnel or bus stop and identify possible safety concerns from the criteria on their checklist. This is one part of larger solution to help post-secondaries make the campuses safer for women and for all.

Just last year, WISE took part in an outside campus-wide safety audit of Carleton University. We gathered volunteers, students, staff, faculty and safety officers around the campus and hear stories of potential assault areas and the steps Carleton is taking to remedy them (increasing the lighting in the area and creating paths where students have created their own to detour around buildings to reach their classes and residences.

Want to know about our community safety audits or how we can help? Email us for more information.