Western University, London police urge survivors to come forward amid social media reports of student assault, druggings

Students walking into Sydenham Hall at Western University on Sept. 13, 2021. Global News / Sawyer Bogdan

London Police say they are investigating social media reports that 30 or more students may have been drugged and/or assaulted in on-campus housing at Western University this weekend, but have yet to get a formal report from a student.

Police held a media conference on Tuesday afternoon to address the investigation into the allegations of sexual assaults and gender-based violence at Western University, and to urge survivors to come forward.

“This past weekend London police become aware of reports circulating on social media that a number of female students at Medway-Sydenham Hall were drugged and sexually assaulted over the weekend — some reports suggest 30 or more students may have been victimized,” said London Police Chief Steve Williams.

“These are serious and disturbing allegations and they have been taken seriously from the onset.”

As of Tuesday afternoon, Williams said despite the rumours online they had not received any reports of drugging or sexual assault at Medway-Sydenham Hall.

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Over the weekend, a number of social media posts alleged a number of female students were drugged and several were sexually assaulted, although that has not been verified by Global News.

Williams said they were working with the university to investigate the incident and identity any victims.

On Monday, Williams said a number of officers went to speak to students at Medway-Sydenham Hall to collect information.

Western University President Alan Shepard, was also at Tuesday’s press conference and condemned sexual violence on campus.

“The recent events do not represent Western’s values and they are not the Western experience we would want for our students, and they are not the kind of experience anyone would want,” Shepard said.

“We know gender-based sexual violence is pervasive in society and University – it’s always wrong and we are calling on those who have experienced it to help us get information.”

Shepard said in light of what happened they have increased security in residence and have on-site confidential counselling as well as specialized gender-based violence and survivor support professionals available for students.

“We believe survivors and we trust them and we work to support them,” Shepard said urging those with information to come forward.

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In addition to the reports of sexual assault this past weekend, Western officials have also confirmed four other formal complaints of sexual violence from students were filed during the first week of school.

Shepard said the incidents happened earlier in the week do not appear to be related to the events over the weekend.

He said they have “taken swift and strong action in these cases, including facilitating arrest and removing students from residence while investigations are ongoing.”

London Police confirmed three incidents involving four female victims were under investigation and that one person had been arrested.

“One male suspect, also a student at Western, was arrested in relation to one of the sexual assault complaints. That person is not in custody and no charges have been laid at this time,” Williams said.

On Friday at noon, a walkout has been planned to support survivors of sexual assault on campus with students expected to gather at UC Hill.

The London Abused Women’s Centre (LAWC) told Global News they received several calls in relation to what happened at Western over the weekend.

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“Since yesterday we have had a handful of women who have called in to access services in regards to this matter,” Jennifer Dunn, executive director of LAWC told Global News Tuesday.

“It’s very concerning but good they are reaching out for support, that’s the point of talking about this to let women know they are not alone.”

Dunn said while she does not think the university is downplaying the situation, “they need to be louder about it and the investigation needs to stay open and continue to do the work to figure out what happened.”

According to a survey from the Council of Ontario Universities (COU), between the 2017-2018 school year, 71 per cent of Western University students reported being sexually harassed, while 32 per cent reported being sexually assaulted.

“That is unbelievably alarming, it speaks to the culture that has not yet shifted, you have conversations that are stemming from the Me Too movement, the Times Up movement, the Shine the Light campaign, and yet nothing something seems to be sticking,” Dunn said.

Dunn said there needs to be a focus on educating children from a young age about kindness, violence against women, and equality, which should be carried through all levels of education.

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Premier Doug Ford took to Twitter Tuesday to express his “disgust” for the allegations.

“As the father of four young women, I am beyond disgusted to hear about the allegations of sexual assault that took place at Western University last week. All victims of sexual violence deserve justice. All students should feel safe on campus,” Ford wrote on Twitter.

“As Minister of Colleges and Universities and a mother of postsecondary students, I am extremely concerned by the incidents of sexual violence reported by students at Western University,” said Jill Dunlop the Minister of Colleges and Universities in a statement.

Anyone who has experienced sexual or gender-based violence can contact Anova’s Crisis Line 24/7 at 519-642-3000, LAWC 519-432-2204, or the Abused Women’s Helpline at 519-642-3000.

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— with files from Mike Drolet

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