Supporting Student Survivors of Sexual Violence in Ontario Colleges and Universities

Advocacy Report by Samiha Hossain, CCYP Fellowship Program. Click to download.


What systems are in place for post-secondary students who have experienced sexual violence while on campus? Recommendations on how colleges and universities can better support student survivors.

From a young age, I knew I wanted to volunteer with survivors, as I had seen the effects of gender-based

violence (GBV) up-close in my community.


Though at first, it felt like abuse was something only women in my South Asian community experienced, I soon realized the troubling reality: women from all backgrounds share these common experiences.


I started volunteering at a rape crisis line as soon as I met the minimum age requirement of 18. There, I heard countless stories from women, girls, and gender-diverse people.


Though each story was unique, I also came across common themes of helplessness, shame, self-blame and systems failing survivors.


...we live in a culture that too often tries to define survivors by their trauma.

At the same time, I felt privileged to witness the resilience and growth of survivors – their commitment to finding joy in tough times even though we live in a culture that too often tries to define survivors by their trauma.


Since my time volunteering and working at the rape crisis line, I have been involved with other initiatives against GBV including delivering allyship workshops and writing for a global feminist newsletter.


As a university student, I am especially affected when I hear from student survivors. I know that sexual violence is not only prevalent on campuses, but young women face specific challenges.


Young survivors are less likely to be believed or taken seriously due to the intersections of ageism and misogyny. They frequently do not know where to go as the system is difficult to navigate, especially in times of stress. Their support systems are often underdeveloped due to the nature of being young, as well as potentially moving away from the community in which they grew up, for college or university.


It has been well documented that the aftershocks of trauma can permeate all aspects of a

person’s life. For students in postsecondary education (PSE), their academics take up a significant

portion of their life.


aftershocks of trauma can permeate all aspects of a person’s life.

The topic of GBV re-entered public discourse due to the COVID-19 pandemic (Azis, 2020), as well as

recent events on Canadian campuses including, walk-outs, marches and petitions regarding sexual

violence has had me reflecting on what needs to change.


Just in September 2021, an estimated 9,000 students participated in a walk-out after it was reported on social media that 30 or more students were drugged and/or assaulted at on-campus housing at Western University in London, Ontario (LeBel and Bogdan, 2021).


An estimated 9,000 students at Western University walked out of class to protest what they call a “culture of misogyny” on campus after a series of sexual assault allegations on Sept. 17, 2021. Sawyer Bogdan / Global News

When I started this fellowship, I began with the question: What kind of systems are in place for

Canadian post-secondary students, who have experienced sexual violence?


From there, I learned about the two main resources survivors in PSE institutions access to help with their studies: mental health supports and what I will be referring to as academic coping supports. The question led me to probe into whether the systems in place are sufficient. I decided to focus my research on the province in which I am located, Ontario.


It is evident from the literature that PSE student survivors require targeted support in completing their

education as the trauma of sexual violence manifests itself in complex and persistent ways. Surveying

and speaking to PSE staff and those who support students from the frontlines only emphasized this

fact.



I have focused on mental health supports and academic coping supports as they are the

two main types of supports that students utilize when they are going through a crisis that has the

potential to disrupt their studies.


Academic coping supports are focused on in particular because they are not typically associated as a key resource for survivors of sexual violence.


The findings will hopefully bring to light key gaps in supports and recommend ways in which colleges and universities can best ensure student survivors have the resources they need to complete their education and ultimately achieve their academic and career goals.



 
ABOUT CCYP's FELLOWSHIP PROGRAM

Through CCYP's Fellowship Program, Fellows are exposed to policy, research, leadership, academic writing, evaluation, systems thinking, public speaking, and more. It also provides youth with access to the workforce development industry, while at the same time serving as a means of adding more youth perspectives to the advocacy work at the Canadian Council for Youth Prosperity.