RE: Western apologizes for sexual abuse by former psychiatrist, March 14, 2016

I am writing this letter in response to the recent apology emailed to students regarding sexual assaults that occurred on campus nearly 20 years ago. While this apology is a nice sentiment, it is not only long overdue, but was also sent for reasons which students may not be aware. Provost Janice Deakin claims the University is apologizing because “it’s the right thing to do,” but since Dr. Stanley Dobrowolski was sentenced almost two years ago, the apology comes unprompted at a seemingly odd time. 

However, a story from Brock University recently emerged about a student told to keep quiet about her experience as a victim of sexual violence. A CBC News article quotes Brock University President Jack Lightstone saying: "An incident like this is not a measure of the culture of the campus . . . [Brock] "is a welcoming and supportive environment for students.” The story also calls into question the sexual violence policies of universities across the country. Every university would like its students, parents and faculty to believe its campus is “welcoming and supportive,” hence President Amit Chakma’s proactive apology. 

Western’s official policy on sexual assault claims it is “committed to providing and maintaining an environment in which sexual violence is not tolerated,” and says the University is also committed to providing education about and support for sexual violence through the promotion of awareness initiatives. The policy claims the “University will support these initiatives through a dedicated education and awareness web page and existing committees such as the safe campus advisory partners and the women’s safety committee. The University will ensure that these initiatives are broadly communicated to all members of the University community.”           

I have been a student at Western for two years and I have never heard of either of those committees. A 2015 report by CBC’s Lori Ward states that in 2014, Western reported just two incidences of sexual violence on campus, a number that experts say is worryingly low. Statistics Canada figures show that one in four North American women will experience sexual violence at some point in their lives and only six in every 100 incidences are reported. So, Western’s sexual violence incidences should be at least 15 times higher than reported. While the University clearly needs to do a better job of encouraging students to come forward, this can’t be done without acknowledging that a problem exists.          

Rather than trying to promote a positive image of the University by simply overlooking any undesirable statistics, the administration would do better to do more than pay lip service to the very real occurrence of sexual violence on campus. Sending apologies to students about a 20-year-old incident is a great way to detract from a very vague sexual assault policy, but it does nothing for current students and their willingness to come forward and report future incidences.

The reality, while not desirable, is that sexual violence does happen and it happens on university campuses. If Western really wants to “be extraordinary,” the administration should set new standards for universities by acknowledging the problem and encouraging students to come forward to get help and prevent future occurrences.    

—Ainsley Gonder

Geography and Sociology II