Veronica Appia and Malcolm Campbell
Policy only goes so far when it comes to changing perceptions.
Humber College is releasing its policy and protocol dealing with sexual assault and violence in a few weeks. But that won’t necessarily provoke change.
Corinna Fitzgerald, Director of Student Life Programs at Humber, is a part of the team drafting the policy.
“Sexual violence is a complex and multi-layered problem, and it demands a similarly diverse response,” she said. “Different people have different needs when it comes to being a victim of sexual violence, and we need to offer a wide range of services at various levels to ensure we are doing our best.”
Rob Kilfoyle, Director of Public Safety and Emergency Management, agrees that there isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution.
“We have a strong referral network, and access to resources that allow us to give a person who has experienced sexual assault what they need,” he said. “Everybody’s different, and we handle each case on an individual basis. It’s controlled by the person reporting the incident.”
Only 33 sexual assaults of every 1,000 cases in Canada are reported according to the action plan to prevent sexual violence and harassment recently released by the Ontario Liberal government.
This is a problem not only in treating victims, but also hinders law enforcement efforts.
“One way we can prevent (sexual assault) is by getting a handle on the problem, so we would encourage anybody experiencing a harassment or assault situation to report that in,” Kilfoyle said.
Humber College offers a range of educational programs for students and staff that aim at preventing incidents of harassment and assault.
One such initiative is the Rape Aggression Defense training course launched in 2011. The course, exclusive to women, offers assault resistance tactics participants can employ to avert assailants.
“Statistically, the aggressors in sexual assault are generally men,” said Keith Pua, the Public Safety Co-ordinator at Humber’s Lakeshore campus. “We wanted to have the type of program that protects women against male aggressors.”
Second-year Justice Studies student Genevieve Jung said it’s always important for women to learn to defend themselves. Jung, who participated in the R.A.D. event on Tuesday night, said the class is important for safety and a good step to take in protecting oneself.
Women need a place of their own to learn how to defend themselves, said Lisa Steacy, a representative from the Canadian Association of Sexual Assault Centres.
“I think if you are teaching women how to literally fight off a rapist, having that be women-only is fine. I think women-only spaces are important for women to get together…to figure out how to fight for each other and (themselves),” she said.
Last month Humber College released a gender diversity policy in support of gender inclusive language and of all-gender washrooms.
While progress is clearly being made, more can be done, said Jordan Orford, president of Beyond the Rainbow, a Humber student group in support of the LGBTQ+ community.
When taking into consideration the rise in sexual assault cases in Canada in recent years, Humber has been productive in providing women with the tools to empower themselves and prevent sexual violence on campus and in the community, he said.
Sexual assaults have nearly doubled over the past decade. The instances of police reported incidents have risen to 2,461 in 2012 from 1,300 in 2002, according to Statistics Canada.
These stats do not solely apply to women.
“I have a lot of friends that are abuse victims, both male and female,” Orford said.
Orford understands the need for a women-only space, but advocates for similar treatment of members of the LGBTQ+ community.
“We are leaving out a huge demographic that potentially experience violence on a day to day basis,” he said. “Trans women are one of the most physically harmed groups in the LGBT community.”
R.A.D. instructors acknowledge the need to serve the greater Humber student community.
“If we find the right opportunity to expand and grow, the more people we can serve,” Pua said. “That’s our goal – to be able to serve 100 per cent of the community.”
Humber College has created policies for transgender students, but these policies will not make a difference unless students and faculty act upon them.
“We need to educate Humber College that these rules exist…sometimes the rules go blissfully ignored and are never upheld,” Orford said.
Although Humber is taking steps towards being gender inclusive, Orford said it would be beneficial for the college to have a defense training program open to the LGBTQ+ community as well.
“Having documentation saying transgendered people be treated like everyone else is progressive,” said Orford. “But I say the real proof is in the pudding.”