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Fear of being blamed, distrust among reasons women don't report sex assaults: experts

September 17, 2021

In the face of multiple social media claims of sexual violence during Western University’s orientation week, there is an explanation why a woman may not report an incident to police, says a Western expert on violence against women.

“Fundamentally the reason why is in our culture we still blame the victims, who are primarily women, for these things,” said Barb MacQuarrie, community director of Western’s Centre for Research and Education on Violence Against Women.

“(There are) these culturally ingrained notions of shame and secrecy and the way we blame survivors. And the way our whole criminal justice system has been built around a distrust of reports of sexual assault. It has punished those who have come forward.”

Reports first appeared on social media nearly a week ago of mass drugging and sexual assaults at the Medway-Sydenham Hall residence on campus during orientation week. Despite door-to-door canvassing by officers, London police say no one at the residence has come forward to make a formal complaint.

But by posting on social media, the students have voiced their concerns and brought the issue “out into the open,” MacQuarrie said.

“I think the first step in addressing any steep social ill is bringing it to the surface,” she said. “That tells me we are at the very, very beginning of coming to grips with this deep-seated problem we have.”

AnnaLise Trudell, manager of education, training and research at Anova, a shelter and counselling agency for women who have been abused, says orientation week and similar events typically result in an increase in calls for counselling.

Reporting the incident to police is the start of “a cumbersome process” that can take up to two years to make it through the court system, she noted.

“The majority of survivors will not report (the incidence to police),” Trudell said.

She describes a planned walkout Friday organized by a group of Western students to raise awareness about gender violence “an incredibly powerful thing.

“We may never know what did happen (last weekend),” Trudell said. “Frankly the issue has grown much bigger than that.”

The student council-backed walkout, she said, will draw attention to the fact that every year “sexual assaults have increased rates during orientation week.

“There is a trend there and a sense of it needs to stop,” she said.

Jordan Fairbairn, an associate professor of sociology at King’s University College who specializes in gender-based violence, said she “totally understands” why people would not come forward to police or school administrators.

“Survivors and those who are familiar with it know that historically and currently our criminal justice system does not provide supports and justice to victims and survivors of sexual violence,” she said. “It often revictimizes and retraumatizes them in different ways — through questions asked or framing or having to tell the story repeatedly.”

Western has a responsibility to “support individuals and also work towards a large scale structural and cultural change,” she said.

“This will have to involve listening to students and really hearing them.”

Fairbairn said she and “many, many faculty members” are proud of the students for staging the walkout “and support them wholeheartedly.”

On Thursday, Fanshawe College officials said they, too, are working with London police as they investigate “sexually violent and threatening posts” on the social media site Discord.

“Fanshawe will not tolerate gender-based and sexual violence,” school officials wrote on Twitter Wednesday night.

Discord is a chat service popular in the gaming community, but it is used for more than games, including men posting photos of naked women without their consent.

Read the original story from London Free Press

Read the original article on London Free Press