She didn’t have any reason not to trust him.
He was a friend, after all. A fellow grad student who she would go for a pint with on a regular basis with their group of mutual friends.
“The night I was attacked was over Christmas break,” recalls Jen Conway, now 30. “He invited me over to hang out and have dinner, since he knew I was spending the holidays alone. I’m not entirely sure what happened with the drinks he poured me, but I only had two that I recall, and I passed out in a chair.”
When Conway came to, she was naked in his bed.
“He was trying to have sex with me. I couldn’t really move, but I could make noise, and that caused him to stop. I passed out again. When I woke up, it was morning. He insisted on driving me home.”
Some envision sexual assault as occurring after being overpowered by a stranger in a dark alley, but that’s not usually the case. According to the Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics, 55% of female victims of sexual assault know their attacker. Young women on campuses where there is a culture of binge drinking are particularly vulnerable. Several studies have linked sexual assault to an increased alcohol intake and the overwhelming majority of drug-facilitated sexual assaults involve alcohol.
With tens of thousands of students across Canada returning to their respective institutions of higher learning this week, their safety and well-being are on the minds of the administration. Canadian universities and colleges are aware that they have a responsibility to do everything in their power to keep students safe.
It’s a responsibility that Toronto’s York University takes very seriously.
“What we have done over the past number of years is to heavily invest into York safety and security services,” says Wallace Pidgeon, Associate Director of Media Relations at York. Of the 2840 reported sexual assaults that took place in Toronto last year, six incidents occurred at York. According to a safety update released last week by York’s President & Vice-Chancellor Mamdouh Shoukri, the university will soon be increasing security personnel on campus and expanding campus shuttle services. They have also updated their emergency blue phone system and added door alarms and CCTV cameras to residences. Additionally, the university has recently implemented a Management Safety Committee and a Sexual Assault Initiatives Committee.
Pidgeon says that York is taking a holistic approach.
“It’s not just about a community-based security and safety service but about making sure that at our upcoming orientation week, for example, we have briefings, tutorials, meetings and events … with (campus safety) in mind.”
Pidgeon says that York’s orientation will include inclusivity training that ensures that new students understand what constitutes a violation and that they learn to respect others. One such orientation event is Can I Kiss You, poised to tackle issues surrounding dating, intimacy and consent.
Post-secondary students must also take as much responsibility as they can for their personal safety. Most colleges and universities instruct students on campus safety features, such as “walk home” programs, and some list campus safety tips on their websites.
“Always let others know where you are,” advises Samantha Wood, former Outreach Coordinator for the Ottawa Coalition to End Violence Against Women. “Carry a cell phone in case of emergencies. Watch your drink. Leave pride aside and ask for assistance if you feel unsafe. Try to be proactive instead of reactive — for example, take off your headphones (when walking) at night.”
And more than anything else, listen to your gut.
“Trust your instincts,” Conway says. “Do not think it can’t happen to you. Denial will never work as a safety strategy.”
Sexy Typewriter blogs about her dating failures – online and otherwise – at Sexytypewriter.com.