As much as any parent wants to think their child will be safe at university, sexual assault is a real concern.
Recognizing these risks, the University of Saskatchewan will be taking one more proactive step in preventing this by empowering individuals to intervene.
Sobering statistics show the majority of sexual assaults on university campuses take place within the first eight weeks of school, involve first-year students, and alcohol is often involved.
“The majority of the time it happens with somebody who is known to the person who’s victimized. So we’re not talking about someone who jumps out from behind the bushes,” Patti McDougall, vice-provost of teaching and learning at the university, said.
Between 2010 and 2015, 11 sexual assaults were reported at the University of Saskatchewan.
McDougall believes in the last two years, the number of reported sexual assaults at the U of S has actually gone up.
She said it is not because the frequency has increased, but because the campus has been more effective in encouraging victims to come forward.
“They can decide if they want to go forward to go on the official record which could mean going to the police and our help going to the police if they wish and then make sure that they are supported in knowing what their options are at the university for making a compliant,” McDougall said.
No sexual assaults have been reported in the last couple of weeks during the start of this fall school session but that doesn’t mean one hasn’t occurred.
“I think until we can be sure that there are people that are trained and willing to intervene, I think these things will happen,” McDougall remarked.
Simply put, most people are too afraid to step in if they see something wrong.
“When people are in groups, they tend to follow what the group is doing so if nobody is really moving, they’re not going to move,” Khaled Nabelsi, a University of Saskatchewan student, said.
“I think the hardest step is taking that first step.”
Faith Bae admitted she would likely be too scared to directly approach the parties involved.
“I probably would maybe try or maybe call someone and ask for help – get maybe the police involved.”
Acknowledging these hesitations, the university is bringing in an expert in October to conduct bystander intervention training to at least 30 staff and faculty members.
“Bringing in the Bystander” helps individuals know what to do when they witness concerning sexual behaviours.
“I can intervene before something happens, I can also intervene while something is happening and if something has happened I can be there after the fact and intervene so I can be there to support someone who has experienced victimization,” McDougall said.
The plan is to have these individuals then share what they learned during training with the student body on both how to prevent and de-escalate situations.
“You can imagine us doing sessions with everybody who’s moving into residence but at the same time there’s also down the road for us – part of our planning would be to introduce it into the curriculum in certain places where it might be a good fit.”
So that students will learn how to safely intervene and what they’re responsibility is in the matter – ‘if not you then who.’