If you – or someone you know – experience sexual assault, accessing support is crucial, says Cheryl Regehr, vice-president and provost of the University of Toronto.
And support must be focused on what the victim needs − recognizing that those needs can change at any moment, she adds.
“Sexual violence is horrifying for those who have been through the experience,” Regehr said. “We need to ensure those affected by sexual violence know where to turn for help – and that they get the help they require.”
Coming forward to ask for help is often difficult, said Regehr, a former social worker and director of a sexual assault care centre, who has worked with those accused of sexual violence as well as victims of sexual violence.
“If someone has experienced sexual violence, telling another person can be at times, overwhelming. It can often feel like you lose what little control you may have,” she said. “But we want anyone who is a member of our community who has experienced sexual violence to know there are many avenues for them to receive support.”
The University of Toronto’s new policy and approach to the issue of sexual violence prevention and support came into effect in January 2017.
The University also created the position of executive director of personal safety, high risk, sexual violence prevention and support, hiring Terry McQuaid in the role. And a new centre was created to prevent and respond to sexual violence across all three campuses.
More training and education are planned, and the University is committed to improving its services and responsiveness, the provost said
“Every case is unique and we want to ensure that we’re doing whatever we can to help victims make informed choices every step of the way,” said McQuaid. “A survivor’s needs may change, as does their willingness to report, to be in public or have the issue investigated.
“When victims come to the centre to disclose an experience of sexual harassment, sexual assault, or sexual violence, they are provided with options,” she said. “Some survivors want accommodations put in place for school or work. Other survivors may choose to make a formal report to the University, to the police or to both.”
The work to support survivors is important and challenging, said Kelly Hannah-Moffat, vice-president of human resources and equity.
“We have staff who are working very hard to provide the best possible support to victims as they work though a confusing and traumatic process,” Hannah-Moffat said. “We are educating the community to quickly connect victims with the SV centre and we are also creating new supports for those who receive disclosures and for staff committed to working with victims.
“These cases are complex and difficult and the staff doing this work have a high level of expertise, compassion and empathy as they try to meet the unique needs of each victim,” Hannah-Moffat said. “Every allegation is taken very seriously and followed up.”
It’s important to understand that people have the choice either to disclose an assault or to report it, said Regehr, whose academic research has included looking at the experience of victims of sexual violence in the court system, and at issues of recovery from rape trauma.
“When people disclose that they’ve been assaulted, they’re looking for support and they’re looking for someone to help them think through the various options they have,” she said. While a disclosure will not lead to an investigation, the University will explain their options and ways in which they can be supported (such as accommodations, housing needs, and counselling resources).
Reporting is the potential next step. “When they report, that sets in motion a process where they are looking to have some sort of action taken.”
At the University, people can report to the campus police or to the metro police.
“Our goal is that whomever a victim discloses to will be helpful, and, if a victim chooses to report, we will provide support as they go through that process of investigation,” Regehr said.
On the St. George campus, the Tri-Campus Sexual Violence Prevention and Support Centre is located at 140 St. George St. and is open 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Friday. The UTM Health Centre and UTSC Health & Wellness Centre will help direct people to services until the centre opens its locations on those campuses. Individuals can also call Campus Police to make a report at 416-978-2222.
After hours support is available at Women's College Hospital SAAC (416-323-6040), Scarborough Grace Sexual Assault Care Centre (416-495-2400), and Trillium Hospital Sexual Assault Care Centre (905-848-7100).
Assaulted Women's Help Line: 416-863-0511
Peel Rape Crisis Centre: 905-273-9442
Toronto Rape Crisis Line: 416-597-8808