‘We clearly have a culture problem’: Western University launches action plan amid reports of student assaults

Click to play video: 'Ontario government makes amendments to how post-secondary institutions investigate sexual assaults'
Ontario government makes amendments to how post-secondary institutions investigate sexual assaults
WATCH: The Ontario government is making changes to how victims of post-secondary sexual assault are treated. The announcement comes the same week as disturbing reports out of Western University and a string of alleged sexual assaults there. Matthew Bingley reports – Sep 16, 2021

Western University is admitting to a “culture problem” and is launching a new action plan in wake of multiple reports of sexual assault in the first week of school.

The university released the new action plan and plans for a Task Force on Sexual Violence and Student Safety Thursday. This comes less than a week after social media reports that 30 or more students may have been drugged and/or assaulted in Medway-Sydenham Hall.

This news also comes on the heels of an additional three separate reports of sexual assault involving four female victims, which are under investigation by London Police.

Police have said they are working with Western University to investigate all claims of sexual assault.

A statement from Western said the aim of the task force is to help them better understand and eradicate sexual violence and create a campus culture where these unacceptable actions are prevented.

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“This has been a tremendously difficult time for our students and the entire Western community. We clearly have a culture problem that we need to address,” said President Alan Shepard.

“We let our students and their families down.”

Part of the safety changes includes requiring mandatory in-person training on sexual violence for all students living in residency starting on Sept. 20.

The university will also hire 100 upper-year undergraduate and graduate students as safety ambassadors to help during the night shift and enhance security on campus during the night shift.

Another element is re-establishing the ability of faculty sophs — upper-year undergraduate students that volunteer as mentors for incoming students — to access and support first-year students in residences.

Sophs provide peer mentorship for first-year students and were unable to live in residency this year in order to guarantee spots for all first-year students.

The school does say 164 dons (floor supervisors) live in residence as well as 11 live-in professionals to support first years.

Part of the education students will receive will be around consent, personal safety, bystander training, gender-based violence and sexual assault.

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More details about the task force, training modules, and other safety measures will be announced in the coming days.

“It’s good they have come out with a plan to address what is going on. It’s very important to take action, but the action suggestion is only as good as the implementation,” Jennifer Dunn, executive director of LAWC, told Global News Thursday.

“We need to make sure everything we are missing actually happens.”

According to a 2019 report from Statistics Canada, 71 per cent of students at Canadian postsecondary schools witnessed or experienced unwanted sexualized behaviours in a postsecondary setting in 2019.

“Sexual assault remains the only violent crime that’s not decreasing, I am happy the commuting is talking about it and the country is,” Dunn said.

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.

“Part of the action plan is that all students will be required to take mandatory sexual violence safety training and this is very important, but there is a problem, and it’s a problem in our society in general,” Dunn told Global News.

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Dunn said the type of training and support needed, should start before a sexual assault occurs not after.

“It needs to start at an elementary level, boys and girls need to learn women and men have the rife to live a life free of violence.”

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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