Monday, July 16, 2012

The Issue of Increasing Sexual Assaults at York University

Two Sexual assaults occurred on Keele campus on July 5th. The security bulletins were posted thursday night online and some were posted around campus on friday. The majority of the population at York did not know about the assaults until it went viral and the news started broadcasting about it (over the weekend). Only after this did York send an e-mail to students regarding the assaults. The effort to notify students online should have occurred earlier. The opening line of the letter is positive:
“you may have heard about the four reported incidences of unwanted physical contact at York’s Keele Campus that occurred last Thursday. This kind of behaviour is unacceptable and will not be tolerated by the University.”

This is something that hasn’t been seen in letters of bulletins from York before; this message needs to be at the beginning of every security bulletin, the sentiment that sexual assault is unacceptable behavior and that it absolutely will not be tolerated. While this is a positive change all of  the victim-blaming language that appears below those lines pretty much makes the message moot. To make matters worse, in a later release from York they downgraded the attack from sexual assault to “inappropriate physical contact”. 

This language is diminishing and trivializing what happened. It should say four women were sexually assaulted. Full stop. What happened was sexual violence perpetrated against women. When someone is mugged we would never call that “inappropriate touching”. That would be moronic and insulting. This downplaying is no different.

The increase in sexual assaults and acts of violence at York University’s Keele campus is hard to deny. York administration is not taking the situation seriously, nor taking the proper steps to change safety for the better.
 Instead they perpetuate the rape culture we live in through the use of victim blaming language and attitude, and generally, an attitude of apathy. (what is rape culture?)

Take a look at the July 5th bulletin as well as York security safety bulletins from the last few years.

Notice anything similar in them? They are worded so that it always sounds like the victim’s fault instead of the perpetrator’s. She was walking alone at night! She wasn’t aware of her surroundings. It’s your duty to be aware of “suspicious individuals”, so ladies and gents, it is your fault if you get raped. Why does York continue to use these words, this exact same letterhead, over and over and over? 

Then we get news stories with reporters and cops telling us that women should walk in pairs (even if the assault they are reacting to took place at 4 pm in a public space, for example this assault at Seneca which York never acknowledged), to call security if they see anyone suspicious (any male apparently). Oh and don’t forget about 31 division’s Const. Sanguinetti telling a room full of York students at Osgoode that “women should avoid dressing like sluts in order not to be victimized”, which started the Slutwalk movement. Why are we constantly barraged with the mesage ‘don’t get raped’, instead of ‘don’t rape’?  

There are many steps York University could be taking to make Keele a safer campus. Take a look at this METRAC safety survey from 2010. METRAC is a third party who performed a safety audit on York’s safety and how it can be improved. The survey lists many faults and ways to improve them. Changes like faster report times by security, more blue light boxes, more cameras, clearer signage around campus, and even trimming overgrown vegetation can result in greater safety. Some of the suggestions are as simple as adding more streetlights on campus, and even changing to a higher wattage of light bulbs. Any student who has been on campus after 9pm knows how dark it is outside of the colonnade/ bus loop. It’s dark and isolated and students have to walk through these areas to get to their residences or homes in The Village. It doesn’t help that York security avoid these areas, preferring to stay where it is brightly lighted.

Basically when at the bottom of security bulletins York Admin says:

York Community members are reminded to exercise personal safety by:
- Being aware of your surroundings and the people around you
- Reporting any suspicious persons or behaviour to York Security Services
Should you have any information about any incident you are asked to contact Toronto Police Service directly at 416.808.2222. York Security responds to all community calls at 416.736.5333.
York University provides the following campus security services:
-24/7/365 campus security patrols
-goSAFE foot patrols
-Transportation - Campus Shuttle
-24/7/365 Monitored CCTV coverage
-Network of Emergency "Blue Light" Telephones

What they really mean is:

York community members are persuaded to think it’s their responsibility to stop assaults themselves and not the rapists responsibility through exercising "personal safety" by:

- if you are a female do not walk by yourself, stay indoors, don't go out after sundown, don't dress in anything but a snowsuit because then you are obviously "asking for it"
- Report all men who look like criminals or behaviors (young, black, low income etc)

Should you have any information about this sexual attack please help by only contacting Toronto Police Service at 416.808.2222

York Security responses to some community calls for service, but not all crimes, and can be contacted at times at 416.736.5333

York University seemingly provides the following campus services, WHEN THEY CAN BE REACHED:
- Typically security provides TWO guards in the evening to patrol the whole campus of 60,000 students.  These guards have to work in tandem rending them to one group, in most cases you will find these guards hanging out in Founders, or in York Lanes buying lottery tickets.
- goSAFE Transportation service comes once every half and an hour and picks up some but not all students. This service would be amazing, but it only runs down Sentinel road forcing students to have to walk through the dark village by themselves in most cases.  Also, this service no longer runs to The Kinsmen Building leaving these students stranded to walk down the dimly lit Chimney Stack Road.
- Escort Service - Foot Patrols are provided by the university however, they will only walk you to the edge of campus (Pond Rd) as the York University Village is not in their jurisdiction.
- CCTV coverage (closed circuit television) is normally stated as one of the university primary defenses against assaults.  While there are over 4000 camera's we wonder how ONE security guard on FOUR screens can effectively monitor the whole much for 24/7/365 coverage.
- York provides us with a Network of Emergency "Blue Light" telephones, most of which do not work. So cross your fingers if you are trying  to use one!

York has taken very few steps to comply with METRAC’s suggestions. The administration seems to prefer to do the bare minimum when it comes to protecting its staff and students. They find excuses if an attack happens at Seneca or in The Village; York refuses to acknowledge these places, claiming it isn’t their property.

On November 28th of 2011, Instead of releasing a security bulletin concerning a man who had his throat slashed in a hate crime at Seneca @ York ,York admin released this bulletin, about a man who almost had his iPod stolen in a non-violent attempted robbery.

On May 5th 2011, a woman as was attacked and sexually assaulted twice by a man inside the Seneca building at 4 PM. No York security bulletin was released for this, nor was it addressed by York admin. 

     Seneca @ York is in the middle of Keele campus and what happens there affects us all. The Village is property bought by York and sold to private owners. No they don’t own it, but it exists to provide housing to York students and is inseparable from the Keele campus. Students deserve to be informed when attacks such as this occur. Secrecy, ignorance, and apathy is detrimental to safety.    

Join us in pressuring York administration into making positive changes Let your voice be heard- be active. Write letters, sign petitions, stage protests, rallies, and other acts of activism. Do not be silent.

We will keep you updated on upcoming protests and campaigns. For up to the date info check out Feminist action on facebook, and on tumblr. 


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