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Volume 91, Issue 34

Wednesday, October 29, 1997

Union station


FEATURES
 

Drawing the line on sexual assault


©Graphic by Janice Olynich


By Ciara Richard
Gazette Staff

Sexual assault has been the subject matter of many movies-of-the-week, after school specials and daytime talk shows, but this has not diminished the seriousness of the issue.

Experts say the potential for sexual assault exists everywhere there is human interaction – the workplace, at home and schools.

In recent years, there has been much debate concerning how to define sexual assault: how far is too far? Many people don't see the harm in comments or gestures which carry sexual connotations; the reality is these little comments or gestures are considered sexual assault.

"Sexual violence can be anything from an inappropriate comment or whistling at someone, to more serious behaviour such as touching, fondling, incest, date rape, stranger rape, even rape within marriage," Barb MacQuarrie, director of communications and funding of the London Sexual Assault Crisis Centre explains. "Any sexual behaviour that is not consentual is considered sexual violence."

Rape, the most serious form of sexual violence, can be placed in either two categories: date/acquaintance rape or stranger rape. With date rape, there's usually a relationship of trust with certain boundaries and one of the parties violates those boundaries, MacQuarrie explains. Stranger rape involves a stranger attacking someone and is far less common of the two, she adds.

The incidence of sexual assault is difficult to chart since the majority of cases go unreported. "Generally-accepted stats are somewhere between one in four to one in two women will experience sexual violence," MacQuarrie says.

At Western, the incidence of sexual assault is relatively low, at least according to police reports. In 1996, of nine reported assaults, only two were sexual assault; in 1997 there have been, so far, two reported cases of sexual assault, according to Inspector Bob Earle of the University Police Department.

Earle advises common sense when it comes to protecting oneself from potential attackers. "Utilize the services on campus [i.e Foot Patrol] ; travel with other company – you're chances of being assaulted are increased when you're alone," he says. "When you're out for the evening, always monitor your alcohol consumption."

Pepper spray is not legal in Canada but many Canadians have brought it over the border in hopes it will save them if ever the situation arises when they need to protect themselves. There are other protective devices on the market, such as personal alarms which are supposed to alert others that someone is in trouble.

"Pepper spray is like any other weapon – there is a much higher probability it will be turned on you. So if you're going to use it, make sure you're prepared," Earle warns.

"With respect to [personal] alarms as a defensive measure, it doesn't have much impact – if the attacker is going to attack, it won't deter him. And alarms don't necessarily attract people because they don't know what it is or how to react," he further explains.

The best protection you can carry with you – a cellular phone. Also, keep to well-lit areas at night, preferably where there are other people and always use Foot Patrol, if possible, Earle advises.

Fortunately, for victims of sexual assault, there is somewhere to go for help. "They could go to the Student Development Centre or they could come to the [Women's Issues Network] office and we could refer them to somebody at the sexual assault centre or they could just call their 24-hour crisis line," says Gillian Judkins, a volunteer at WIN.

Oct. 27 to Nov. 1 is Sexual Assault Awareness Week – a co-operative effort between the Campus Safety Commission of the University Students' Council, WIN and the Students Reducing Interpersonal Violence Through Education team of Student Health Services.

"Together, our objective is to deliver a multimedia, user-friendly campaign which will make the university community aware of the issues surrounding sexual assault, challenge pre-existing mythologies which people might have about the issue and encourage people to actively take steps to protect themselves and others from victimization," Mike Foster, campus safety commissioner, says.

So keep your eyes peeled and your ears open – the importance of what we can all learn this week cannot be understated. It's a sad reflection of our society that sexual assault is as prevalent as it is, but by increasing learning and understanding, we can, hopefully, create a safer future.

"Sexual Assault Awareness week is only five days," says Foster. "But it's five days where we can hope that we can give people the information they need so they can make the right decisions, every day for the rest of their lives."


To Contact The Features Department: gazfeat@julian.uwo.ca

Copyright © The Gazette 1997