While reports of sexual assault have more than doubled over the past school year at Western University, a member of the campus’s Gender Based Sexual Violence Action Committee says the rise in numbers can be explained.
In the 2021-2022 school year, there were 164 cases of gender-based violence reported to the survivor support case manager. That number is up from 74 cases reported the previous year.
Katreena Scott, director of the Centre for Research on Violence Against Women and Children (CREVAWC) at Western University, says the increase in reports likely follows on training that was provided to university employees leaders last fall.
“By providing information and being supportive of victims and their voices, we knew that there would be more reports,” Scott said.
“We hoped in fact that there would be more people who were willing to come forward and turn to the institution as a place to get a response to their experience.”
The recent numbers were revealed in a report delivered to the university’s board of governors earlier this week.
“We know that sexual violence is one of the most underreported events,” Scott said.
According to Scott, only around five per cent of cases involving sexual assault or violence are reported to police.
Scott sat on the university’s internal Gender Based Sexual Violence Action Committee designed to make recommendations aimed at changing campus culture after a large number of sexual assault allegations were reported in first-year dorms late last year.
In September 2021, London police opened an investigation after reports were seen circulating on social media that a number of female students at Medway-Sydenham Hall were drugged and sexually assaulted during Western’s orientation week — some reports suggested 30 or more students may have been victimized.
Sparking outrage from students and members of the community, thousands of students organized a walkout in taking a stand against gender-based violence.
The event received the support of the university’s president, Alan Shepard, and faculty.
The report recently presented to the board of governors said the survivor support and case manager saw the highest number of referrals and intakes this school year since the role was created in 2018, totalling 321 from staff, students, leaders, community partners, and more.
According to the report, the increase included many survivors of historical incidents of sexual violence, such as childhood abuse or domestic violence. The board said this was due to the widespread media coverage following the walkout in September.
Various initiatives were implemented across the campus in providing educational modules and training on sexual and gender-based violence for students.
Scott said CREVAWC has been working with the university, Anova, which provides support and training on gender-based violence, and resident services to design preventive preventative education and provide information for incoming students, Scott said.
Starting this September, as a condition of admission to the university, all incoming students to Western will be required to complete a gender-based and sexual violence education module before arriving on campus. Additionally, students will be participating in an intensive on-campus experience designed to encourage conversations about sexual violence prevention and education, and information related to alcohol and safe consumption.
Before the end of the school year, over 5,000 students engaged in an online program on consent and bystander intervention, as well as attended a live session called “Understanding Consent.”
“As we start talking about sexual assault and gender-based violence on campus, as we make reporting mechanisms clearer and articulate a stance that we believe survivors, then we should expect to see an increase in reporting of gender based and sexual violence,” Scott said, referencing the university’s recent report numbers and the increase of survivors of historical incidents of sexual violence coming forward.
The report said that the survivor support case manager trained 585 employees and student leaders on disclosure protocols during the 2021 fall semester, adding that this “likely contributed to the increase in students seeking help.”
All survivors who provided contact information, through the disclosure form or walk-in support, were provided with on-campus and off-campus resources, according to the university.
“Western has been working to address sexual violence and has several initiatives underway aimed at achieving real and lasting change,” the university said in a statement in response to the report.
“We have expanded education and training and continue to implement recommendations from two recent reports to foster a culture of safety, community and respect.”