By Angelica Babiera
He sits in front of you in one of the dimly lit tables in York Lane’s Shopsy’s. He’s talking about a recent DJ gig he just got, and you smile at Him lovingly as you listen to his story. You just started dating Him a few months ago, and you believe he’s the love of your life, the fire to your loins. But little did you know, later that night, he will grab you in places you don’t want to be touched, and do things to you without your consent. This situation is actually not new, it’s a recurring topic in the media and in the York University community. Many York students and staff have been sexually assaulted and raped by someone like Him. Him’s are the classmates, professors, friends, cousins, uncles, and so many other possibilities of Him being someone you know. I found this 2014 survey on CBC New’s website about the percentage of rape cases that were reported in universities. I read that researchers concluded a well-below rating of sexual assaults reported. They stated that out of 10, 000 students in Ontario only 1.85 percent reported them. In York University, out of 10, 000 students only 2. 494 percent of them reported their sexual violence, which resulted in a total of only 11 reports (Ward).
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Now I want to know, from that small percentage that were reported to York University, How effective did those victims thought about York University’s help? How effective was York University’s Interim Guidelines, which acts as the outline for helping sexual violence survivors?; And does gender affect the way they help survivors? Really, what I want to know if they got the necessary help needed from York University.
Hello listeners, my name is Angelica Babiera and welcome to today’s A Place for Passion episode called Sweeping It Under the Rug, where I will be talking about the problems in academic institutional help provided for sexual violence survivors.
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A York PhD student named Mandi Gray has experienced sexual violence from a fellow York student (Donnelly). She was headline news in many of Toronto’s news and media outlets because of her experience and the disappointing ‘help’ she got from York University. From hers and Ellie Ade Kur’s sexual violence experience, they created a group called “Silence Is Violence” (Beaumont), where they address the failures in the way institutions implement sexual violence policies to the public (Silence Is Violence). It was through her I learned the struggles of a rape victim, like how it feels to have the institution that is supposed to protect you, brush your concerns aside. So, I asked her in our interview together if York University actually aims to get justice for the victim and not just sweep it under the rug because of their reputation, and her response surprised me.
Mandi Gray: —laughs— “It’s a difficult question to answer because I think we need to talk about like how we define those things, right? So, if we take my case, for example, York University would claim —and they do claim— that they did those things, where from my perspective: I’m like, ‘no, it wasn’t because you didn’t offer me any support; you didn’t offer me academic accommodation; you didn’t offer me workplace accommodation; it was very much me having to do all the labour, to get answers, to figure out what was happening, to learn about… to advocate for myself, to be able to return to campus. But from their perspective, they did everything they could, because the person was charged by the police; they felt that it wasn’t their responsibility to intervene in the matter so it wasn’t until I reminded that they do have a responsibility in terms of my safety on campus, me returning to campus.”
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Ever since I heard about Mandi’s experience, I have been constantly thinking this through: IF it were me —a student, and not a Teaching Assistant; a woman— what would happen to me? It worries me how much I —and many others— don’t know the procedure when it comes to sexual violence response on campus.
So, I asked Mandi for a better understanding on the procedure since she has experience and has conducted her own research.
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Angelica Babiera: “Okay, um, so… what does York University do when a York student gets sexually assaulted and raped on campus?”
Mandi Gray: —giggles— uhm… that’s a really great question, and I think that a lot of us would like to know what happens, uhm, just because it hasn’t necessarily been transparent and it seems like their responses are so many variables and so it’s so complicated. We can’t say that there’s one way to respond, which is kind of a way not to deal with it. But as of right now, there is a Sexual Violence Response Office, although, it just opened about a few weeks ago, so I’m not too sure what their role really is; it hasn’t necessarily been communicated. And then, there’s security or reporting to the police. So, as you can see it gets really complicated and that there’s not like one place you go to, one place to report… um… or really any clear, concrete responses from the university and so, that’s how I’ve become very involved in asking for accountability from administration that there’s one place to report or to respond to instances to sexual assault, where it doesn’t matter if you’re faculty, a staff, or a student. Because we have such a large community and what’s happened is, if you’re a faculty member, you go to this place, if you’re a student, you go to this place, and it becomes really complicated. And more complicated than it needs to be.”
From Mandi’s perspective, York is creating all these services, but not putting them into one place where they are easier to find. She tells me that there is a specific place that a student needs to go to when dealing with this kind of problem, and a different place for staff members. Now, I don’t know about you, but this whole thing is just confusing since it seems like there’s so much time and effort that needs to be done by just looking for these different offices on campus for different students and staff. So, I think it makes sense that there should be one place solely for helping sexual violence survivors.
But York does have its “Interim Guideline for Responding to Sexual Violence” available to You—the York student or staff. It’s basically the document you need to look at when you have been sexually assaulted. And in it, it states that there is an office available to the York students and staff to help and support survivors, tips on how to deal with someone who has experienced sexual violence, keeping confidentiality, and the actual report or complaint process (Interim Guideline). I read the whole thing and I must say that it covers enough points on what to do when someone you know has been sexually assaulted and when filing a report. York University has explained a thorough process by defining certain terms that helps readers understand the process more, and alternative ways the university could help according to different cases (Interim Guideline). Basically, if one does not work out, there is always another option. But Mandi still doesn’t think that the Interim Guideline is effective enough.
Mandi Gray: “I think that… I was actually really disappointed with the Interim Guidelines because it’s a larger history because I mean, this has been an issue on York University campus for almost a decade. The conversations we’re having right now are not new. People way before us—before we were even students here— were having these conversations and so they struck a committee in 2013 to develop policy and procedure, and now it seems like their rushing to get anything together to meet the legislative requirements which is on January of 2017. So, I was actually really disappointed in the Interim Guidelines because not really much has changed in terms of substance. They still are refusing to recognize sexual assault as its own type of student code of conduct. It’s kind of like… If we’re both students and another student sexually assaults me, it is dealt with in the exact same way as for example, excessive noise making in Vari Hall. So, just in terms of comparison, it’s not given any… even though, there’s so much research that demonstrates that sexual assault is very unique in terms of power, in terms of who is assaulted, and how it impacts women differently than men. And yet, it’s still kind of processed through the system in the same way as any other type of student misconduct.”
Mandi’s statement actually reminds me of an interesting article that talks about how effective college rape prevention tips really are. When I was reading through the article, these prevention tips that they talked about, reminded me of York’s Interim Guideline. In “‘Never Go Out Alone:’ An Analysis of College Rape Prevention Tips,” Nicole Bedera and Kristjane Nordmeyer say that “studies examining rape prevention and risk reduction tips on college campuses are lacking from the academic discourse on sexual assault prevention” (Bedera and Nordmeyer 534). Even though, the colleges that participated in their study were American colleges, it’s still weird to think that an academic institution creates rape prevention tips that lacks in academic research. Any post-secondary institution, for that matter, needs to provide academic research in a serious matter like this one since it affects those who attends and works for the institution. But not only that, the institution itself is academic, and so it has resources available to them to conduct proper research. Not having any proper research done, just suggest that they do not care for their students and staff, and that just worries me, terribly.
This reminds me of York’s Guideline, not because they did not conduct enough academic research, but because of what Mandi said: “they are still refusing to recognize sexual assault as its own type of student code of conduct.” Now, if that were true, then that is also part of lacking in academic discourse since these risk reduction tips addresses half to the staff and faculty, and the other half to the students. If York refuses to recognize this, just like what Mandi said, then isn’t that a bit dangerous since sexual violence is a huge issue to deal with and to just brush it off like that? But then again, I don’t have a York representative to support these arguments, because I was unable to get an interview with them. It’s merely a rhetorical question that I’m still looking for the answers to.
To continue with Mandi’s arguments, I found a response article to the Interim Guidelines in Mandi’s group, Silence Is Violence’s, website. In it, it states that the Guideline “contains almost no new developments from the existing York University policies and procedures. The Student Code of Rights and Responsibilities, which applies to all non-academic forms of student misconduct, continues to apply to sexual assault and other forms of sexual violence, when perpetrated by a student. This form has not been updated, nuanced, or amended in any form.” (Silence Is Violence). The response article ultimately stated the things that are wrong with the Interim Guideline. Like how it states that the Sexual Violence Response Office does not provide any new services or support; how the ‘consultations’ that York is seeking on does not specify what exactly that is; and how the words ‘complaint’ and ‘report’ that are implemented in the Guideline raises issues of whether there are a differences in the way ‘disclosure’ and ‘report’ are used in the policy (Silence Is Violence), and so much more. All of these responses to the policy made me rethink the statement I said earlier of how York University created a thorough Interim Guideline for students and staff. Reading it made me rethink about the whole Guideline and how effective it really is.
But the response article also touches light on how Mandi Gray filed a Human Rights Complaint against York University because of the way York treated Mandi Gray. Now a bit of a backstory, I apologize in advance for saying your names incorrectly, but according to Emily Mathieu and Jayme Poisson’s Toronto Star article, “York University discriminated against Mandi as a woman and as a sexual assault survivor,” by failing to have clear policies and protocols outlining what a student can expect from the university if they are sexually assaulted by a classmate or staff, according to a complaint filed to the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario” (Mathieu and Poisson). Mandi also touched upon that in our interview together.
Mandi Gray: “I don’t know how much you know about me but I filed a Human Rights complaint against the university for systemic gender discrimination because that’s exactly what happened in that— after he was charged with sexual assault, and he was also a PhD student, who was a TA and a student, and so, it very much felt that they were trying to prioritize his schedule and him being on campus, as opposed to mine. And that’s kind of like the basis of my Human Rights complaint was that women or individuals who are sexually assaulted— their schedules needs to also be a priority for administration.”
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Interestingly enough this issue of gender and the way institutions help sexual violence survivors relates to Nicole Bedera and Kristjane Nordmeyer’s conducted research. They stated that “many of the tips intended for women reinforced four main ideas: 1) women are vulnerable, 2) there are no safe places for women, 3) women should never be alone, and 4) women can’t trust anyone” (Bedera and Nordmeyer, 536). Basically, what they’re implying is this: prevention tips provided by a post-secondary institution tells women to be afraid of their surroundings and men. The college rape prevention tips that were involved with their research gender-discriminates, and that’s only prevention tips. Now, what would happen if Mandi’s statement was true:
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Mandi Gray: “When it comes to gender —why I’m arguing gender discrimination— because what we know about sexual assault is that amongst adults, it’s almost exclusively women who are sexually assaulted, and the perpetrators are almost exclusively cisgender men. And so, when the policy is consistently not allowing women to attend campus or work because they are sexually assaulted—it’s an issue of gender. I’m arguing that York University discriminates against survivors of sexual assault who are more, often than not, women because of their processes in place that continuously prioritize the return on campus of the perpetrator, who is more often than not, men. So it’s very much gender is at the root of a lot of this—in terms of what is a legitimate safety issue on campus, or for work, and what is not. And that is often…um… sexual assault is something that women worry about and most men, don’t.”
Angelica Babiera: “yeah”
Mandi Gray: “And so, it’s very much rooted in our experiences as gendered as women.”
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In retrospect of Mandi Gray’s statement, it is quite scary to think that prejudice and oppression is still very much there, even in an institution like York University, where they are not supposed to have any of that happening. Based on my conducted research and my interview with Mandi Gray, it seems like the Interim Guideline and gender issues are things that York University needs to really work on. However—and this is a big however— I was not able to interview a York University representative in this matter, so I can’t give their input in the matter.
But the bottom line is this: York University’s Interim Guideline For Responding To Sexual Violence raises a lot of question pertaining their role and how effective this Guideline is. Even though, it’s still murky water, it’s better than having nothing. In the end, hopefully, York is truly trying to better their position in the matter of helping survivors. I mean, they are still being proactive in the conversation by providing security, a Sexual Violence Response Office, the Interim Guideline, and although, people like Mandi Gray aren’t satisfied with the current situation, all we could do is hope for the best and continuously talk about rape and institutionalized help since there’s still progress that needs to be made, not only at York, but in other places as well.
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Credits for the music in the episode is from freesound.org — “Haunted Blues” by FoolBoyMedia; “Elementary Wave” by Erokia; “Wondrous” by Setuniman.
I would like to thank Mandi Gray, for taking her time to sit down with me and answer my questions. Without her, my podcast will not be a successful one. Mandi’s statements really did allow me to put myself into a sexual violence survivor shoes. Through this, I was able to take out important things from our interview together and learn so many things about York University, and hopefully I educated the audience like how she educated me.
I’d also like to thank Maria Sifone and Ulysses Aganon for editing my podcast drafts and always giving back feedback, which helped create this podcast the best as it could be. With that, I’d also like to thank Jared Granger for helping me operate GarageBand. And of course, my wonderful Tutorial Leader, Dunja Baus, for inspiring me to continue on with this podcast even with the challenges that I’ve experienced with it.
Thank you so much to all of these great individuals who made this podcast amazing!
Beaumont, Hilary. "Rape Victims Say Canadian Universities Are failing Them." Vice News. Vice Media LLC, 15 Sept. 2016. Web. 5 Dec. 2016.
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Donnelly, Aileen. "‘I Didn’t Win the Rape Lottery,’ Toronto PhD Student Mandi Gray Says of Rare Guilty Verdict in Sex Assault Case." National Post. Postmedia Network, Inc, 22 July 2016. Web. 5 Dec. 2016.
Gray, Mandi. Personal Interview. 25 October 2016.
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