Better response needed by university on sexual assault

Does “innocent until proven guilty” protect the students of Wilfrid Laurier University or keep them within harm’s way?

Adam Hughes, the perpetrator of a sexual assault in January of 2013, was recently sentenced to 18 months in jail and three years probation. 28 months passed between the assault and the conviction and has sparked controversy about the decisions that were made within that gap of time.

Did the university handle the situation to the best of their ability, or did they leave the victim of a sexual assault vulnerable and in danger?

Because Hughes was not proven guilty, Laurier’s non-academic code of conduct permitted him to carry on with his life on campus without much interference. There were changes to his residence and class schedule to avoid direct contact with the victim.

However Hughes was able to continue working at his job, attend classes, maintain a social life and go about each day despite his criminal allegations.

Larger schools like York University and Ryerson University, which from a report published by the CBC in February 2015 both have higher numbers of sexual assaults reported, have similar policies to Laurier when dealing with accused perpetrators on campus.

Both schools are significantly larger than Laurier and because of this, victims of sexual assault are much less likely to cross paths with their alleged perpetrators. That certainly doesn’t mean it can’t happen, but the chances are reduced.

Because Laurier is such a small campus, it is necessary for different precautions to be implemented. As this particular case has proven, it is very likely the victim and the perpetrator can cross paths on campus. Despite the attempts to change the possibilities of interaction, it is not an effective method.

Unlike other schools, Laurier is a condensed confinement of extended buildings. What you see is what you get.

Classrooms are close together, most residences are no more than five minutes away from one another and the main restaurants are side by side.

If you see a face, it’s more than likely you’ll see that face again.

The university seems to be constantly aiming ahead with preventative measures. They have expressed a zero-tolerance for sexual assault in press releases, have planned to re-evaluate the procedures taken for these instances and have issued training on sexual violence, awareness and consent for first years during Orientation Week.

However they have not managed to address the particular issue at hand: the assailant was able to go on about his life completely unaffected by his actions, while the victim likely lived in fear, shame or possibly even hiding.

The university’s actions have typically been based on prevention rather than response.

The institution may have taken proper actions on the scale of legality, but they did not take the steps necessary to make students feel, or potentially be, safe on campus.

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