“One sex assault is too many.”
These were the words of Rob Kilfoyle, Humber College Director of Public Safety and Emergency Management, when asked to discuss the two sexual assaults that occurred just off-campus on Aug. 2 and Sept. 2, 2015.
Both assaults involved a female victim walking on the pathway off Humber College Boulevard along Highway 27 that leads towards Queen’s Plate frequented by Humber and local community members travelling to the Woodbine Mall and Queen’s Plate parking lot. Kilfoyle says in both incidents a passerby noticed the victim in distress and in one instance used the emergency phones in the Humber parking lot to call 911 when it became clear that this was a criminal matter.
Kilfoyle was quick to point out that while the incidents occurred neither on Humber property nor to Humber students, the department felt a responsibility to alert the Humber community of the incidents. “Even though the survivors of the assaults weren’t Humber-connected, we still felt that [since] it was in such close proximity to the campus and the perpetrators are unknown, there was risk to members of our community and people that travel along that route,” he said.
Kilfoyle said that while both cases are now in the hands of the Toronto police, his department receives daily updates and that at press time, the perpetrators in both assaults were not believed to be connected to the college. “The suspects are yet to be identified but we don’t believe them to be Humber students, staff, or faculty,” he said.
He also said Toronto police believe they are dealing with two different and unrelated perpetrators.
Students have often noted that Humber’s North campus has numerous poorly lit or secluded corners with sprawling grounds that border on the Arboretum, Humber river paths and an overflow of parking that forces many to park in the Queen’s Plate lot a half kilometer to the south. While the pathway where the late-summer assaults occurred is owned by the City of Toronto, the college employs several security guards to patrol it during the academic year. “Even though it’s not our property, we’re concerned and try to make it as safe as possible,” Kilfoyle said.
The assaults took place outside of the academic year when areas like the Highway 27 pathway are more vulnerable, according to Kilfoyle.
One other area bordering the campus that remains vulnerable year-round is a trail that cuts through the Arboretum, he added, noting it acts as a kind of shortcut connecting the main Humber buildings with the student residence buildings. While signs discourage students from using this trail, many frequent it to avoid a much longer walk.
Kilfoyle said that because it is less used and poorly lit, the trail isn’t regularly patrolled but conceded it could be argued that for those reasons it should be patrolled. “True. Is it vulnerable? I would say absolutely that it’s vulnerable.”
Dean of Students Jen McMillen encourages students to be vocal and try to exercise change if they feel a particular area on campus demands attention. “There’s opportunity with us to have conversations and take a look at problem areas. There’s often very practical, very reasonable steps that can be made to increase safety and students are the ones travelling those areas so they’re probably in the best position to give us some of that feedback.”
She also said that while preventing violence of any kind is always at the forefront of the institution’s priorities, now is a milestone moment for sexual violence awareness at the college.
“It’s a bit of a watershed moment. We’ve been having these dialogues and discussions for many years but there always comes a moment in time where everyone else is ready to have an open, honest, genuine conversation about making social change,” said McMillen.
Corinna Fitzgerald, Director of Student Life Programs and lead author of Humber’s Sexual Assault and Sexual Conduct Policy and Procedures, noted the importance of “raising awareness around these things and to continue the dialogue around having a safe campus,” but said that Humber is constantly trying to improve.
“We try to take a multi-pronged approach but there’s never enough that we can do to promote safety on our campus so we do look at what we’re doing and reevaluate it all the time,” she said.
Fitzgerald also contended that a key step in minimizing sexual violence is addressing issues like victim-blaming and the often prevalent rhetoric that revolves around women’s responsibility to keep themselves safe. “Part of the challenge in this dialogue is that if we only target women and tell them to be safe, we’re not really addressing the problem that they are being harmed by other people. I think any student on campus needs to be proactive in their own safety but I think if this dialogue becomes around ‘how do women keep themselves safe’, I don’t think we’re going far enough,” she said.
September is Sexual Violence Awareness Month at Humber College. Students can participate in a wide range of programs and initiatives designed to promote awareness.
Check Humber’s website for more details:
Sexual violence awareness is a Humber Et Cetera series with upcoming instalments on the Humber Students’ Federation Consent is Sexy initiative, Student Life’s Bringing in the Bystander program, counseling services, a closer look at the campus’s dark corners, and more.