Sexual assault a prevailing issue around university campuses

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(Photo by Heather Davidson)

A recent sexual assault near Wilfrid Laurier’s campus is an unsettling reminder that gendered violence continues to be a prevalent issue in not just the Waterloo Region, but in society as a whole.

Although cases of reported sexual assaults have not statistically increased in Waterloo, Sara Casselman, a spokesperson for the Sexual Assault Support Centre of Waterloo Region, explained that these figures are “consistently high.”

“I think that the average person doesn’t really have a sense of how prevalent this issue is in our community and especially within our university communities,” Casselman said.
She explained that national studies demonstrate that young people between the ages of 16 to 24 are four times more likely to be victim to sexual assault than any other age demographic.

“Sexual assault on campus or around campus has always been an issue and remains to be an issue,” Casselman said.

Sergeant Tom Matthews of Waterloo Regional Police, who oversees the major investigators involved in cases of sexual assault, told The Cord that no charges have been laid in the recent assault of an 18-year-old woman.

The assault occurred Sat. September 14, between University Ave. E and Regina St. N when a lone male approached the victim, following a brief conversation.

“It was reported to Laurier, one of our major case branch investigators has been assigned. They then conduct their investigation which includes interviewing the victim, interviewing any other potential witnesses,” Matthews said.

Last year there were 398 reported cases of sexual assault to Waterloo Regional Police, yet these numbers only account for incidences that were actually reported.
Casselman explained that only ten per cent of victims of sexual assault report to the police. “The numbers are so much higher than that,” she said. “We’re a university community and we know that young women, university aged women, are targeted at higher numbers than other women.”

“Sexual assaults happen all the time.”

Chris Hancocks, operations manager of Special Constable Services at Wilfrid Laurier University offered precautionary advice in the hopes that future cases of sexual violence could be prevented.  “Keep the students aware; keep the community aware of what’s going on around,” he said. “Make sure if you are walking alone and you can’t help it, make sure somebody knows where you are and when you’re expected home,” .

The familiar cautionary messages are undoubtedly well meant; however, the implication behind them can be problematic.

“We always hear the ‘don’t go out alone, don’t leave your drink unattended, use the buddy system,’ and in truth, often those messages come from a positive place,” said Casselman. “But the results of those kinds of messages is one that somehow women can prevent or are responsible for their own victimization, which is not true; and two, that the onus is on women as opposed to the perpetrator.”

Casselman called for a change in the dialogue surrounding issues of gendered violence. “Shift the dialogue to be something that looks at those who are perpetuating the crime and how we can prevent the crimes from happening,” she said.
The Sexual Assault Support Centre of Waterloo is organizing Waterloo Region’s 30th annual Take Back the Night March this Thursday, Sept. 26, a peaceful demonstration that stresses the need to end violence against women.

Casselman strongly encouraged students to join in the demonstration, which will commence at 6:00 p.m. on Thursday in Waterloo Park.

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