Western University orientation leader shares personal account amid online reports of student assaults

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

After numerous online posts about of sexual assault and possible druggings during the first week of school at Western University, one orientation leader is sharing her first-hand account of what happened.

Over the weekend, there were a number of social media reports that 30 or more students may have been drugged and/or assaulted in Medway-Sydenham Hall.

Following the reports, Katrina Desjardins, a fourth-year Faculty of Information and Media Studies student who identified herself as an orientation volunteer and soph — an upper-year undergraduate tasked with helping and mentoring new students — released a number of tweets and also an official statement about what she experienced over the weekend and the week leading up.

“It was before midnight on Friday when we saw people start to drop like flies,” Desjardins wrote.

“Before midnight when we saw ambulances rush to three separate girls in less than a 100m radius.”

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Desjardins wrote that rumours people had been drugged started circulating immediately and fellow sophs reported this early on.

In the past, sophs lived with students in residence, along with floor supervisors or dons, but due to the pandemic and the university trying to ensure spots for all first-year students, sophs were unable to live in student residence this year.

“We weren’t allowed in residence buildings due to covid protocol – I get that – but even as we begged higher-ups and administration to check on people and let us help make sure everyone was safe, we were denied access,” Desjardins wrote.

Read more: Province amends sexual violence reporting protocols at Ontario colleges, universities

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Between midnight to 3 a.m. Friday night, Desjardins said she assisted in six situations where first-year students were incapacitated and that she heard of “countless other horrifying stories” across campus.

In a statement sent to Global News, Desjardins is calling out the university for failing “to create a safe campus that prevents sexual and gender-based violence, demonstrates zero tolerance for any perpetrators of violence, and provides adequate resources for their students.”

Read more: Students call for action in the wake of sexual violence allegations at Western University

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.

In addition to the events that took place over the weekend, an additional three separate reports of sexual assault involving four female victims (Western students) are under investigation by London Police.

During orientation and the first week of school Desjardins also shared other accounts of sexual harassment.

“We were screamed at and physically assaulted by men while trying to help with various crisis situations involving first-year students collapsing all over campus.”

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

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She is criticizing Western’s policy for reporting sexual assault and gender-based violence, saying “it’s not enough.”

“The ‘party’ culture at Western has enabled atrocious acts of harassment and assault for far too long and I’ve heard from multiple people how complicated and re-traumatizing the reporting process is.”

Desjardins said beyond implementing a new policy, Western needs to ensure the policies in place are enforced to ensure all students on campus feel safe.

“I’m sorry for the culture perpetuated here that made people feel entitled to your body – I’m sorry that we couldn’t interfere sooner – I’m sorry that the university failed to keep you safe,” Desjardins wrote.

London Police and Western University have been encouraging survivors to come forward in the wake of the reports on social media.

As of the latest update Tuesday, police have said no one has come forward with a formal complaint related to the online allegations.

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

On Thursday, Western University released the new action plan and plans for a Task Force on Sexual Violence and Student Safety.

“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.

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“We let our students and their families down.”

The reports of sexual assault during the first week of school sparked outrage from students and the community, which led several students to organize a walkout to take a stand against gender-based violence.

The walkout is set to happen on Friday at 12 p.m. at UC Hill at Western.

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.

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

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