‘Ab­so­lutely no safety net for me’

Sur­vivors meet to fight cam­pus sex as­saults

The Hamilton Spectator - - CANADA & WORLD - LAURA KANE

Mandi Gray has lost count of the mes­sages she’s re­ceived from women who say their uni­ver­si­ties failed them af­ter they were sex­u­ally as­saulted.

The PhD stu­dent pub­licly al­leged last year that York Univer­sity mis­han­dled her case, and emails and Face­book notes be­gan to pour in — all ex­press­ing, in dif­fer­ent words, “Me too.”

“On one level, it’s com­fort­ing to know that it’s not just me,” Gray said in a re­cent in­ter­view. “On the other hand, it’s ab­so­lutely ter­ri­fy­ing to know that if I’m raped or as­saulted, whether as a grad­u­ate stu­dent or a pro­fes­sor, there is ab­so­lutely no safety net for me.”

Over the past year, an in­for­mal net­work of ac­tivists has emerged to fight cam­pus sex­ual as­saults, with Gray as a cen­tral fig­ure. Now, the group of women from across Canada is plan­ning to meet to dis­cuss con­crete ways to ac­cess jus­tice and hold uni­ver­si­ties ac­count­able.

About 10 peo­ple, in­clud­ing as­sault sur­vivors and lawyers, will gather at Toronto’s Ry­er­son Univer­sity start­ing on Aug. 4. Three women who have filed hu­man rights com­plaints will ad­vise oth­ers who are con­sid­er­ing tak­ing ac­tion against their schools.

Gray, 28, filed a com­plaint with the On­tario Hu­man Rights Tri­bunal in June 2015 al­leg­ing gen­der dis­crim­i­na­tion. She said York lacked clear pro­ce­dures for re­port­ing as­saults, forc­ing her to re­peat her story to a dozen staff mem­bers.

York spokesper­son Bar­bara Joy said this week the univer­sity ap­proved a sex­ual as­sault pol­icy last year and is work­ing with stu­dent groups to de­velop new re­port­ing pro­ce­dures.

A ma­jor aim of the Au­gust event is to share knowl­edge about hu­man rights law, said co-or­ga­nizer Glyn­nis Kirch­meier, who filed a com­plaint in March over the Univer­sity of Bri­tish Columbia’s han­dling of sex as­saults.

“It’s sort of a brave new world,” said Kirch­meier. “Mandi was the one who started it, and the rest of us were like, ‘OK, our sit­u­a­tion is like that and we can see the ap­peal of this fo­rum.’”

In the United States, a le­gal pro­vi­sion called Ti­tle IX bans gen­der­based dis­crim­i­na­tion in uni­ver­si­ties and has en­abled women to suc­cess­fully sue in­sti­tu­tions for in­dif­fer­ence to sex­ual as­sault and ha­rass­ment.

But in Canada, over­sight of uni­ver­si­ties falls to prov­inces. On­tario and B.C. have passed laws re­quir­ing post-sec­ondary in­sti­tu­tions have sex­ual as­sault poli­cies, but crit­ics say the leg­is­la­tion lacks con­se­quences for uni­ver­si­ties that don’t com­ply.

“Th­ese poli­cies are not go­ing to ac­com­plish any­thing, be­cause uni­ver­si­ties are not go­ing to abide by them,” said Paniz Khos­roshahy, a 20-year-old McGill Univer­sity stu­dent. “There needs to be ex­ter­nal over­sight.”

Khos­roshahy is among the women who will at­tend the meet­ing to learn about hu­man rights com­plaints. She said McGill kept her in the dark about what ac­tion was taken against her al­leged as­sailant, re­sult­ing in her fail­ing a class be­cause she was ter­ri­fied of run­ning into him.

McGill has been de­vel­op­ing a sex­ual as­sault pol­icy since 2013 and re­cently set off out­rage when it re­jected a draft writ­ten by stu­dents. The school said this week it is com­mit­ted to sup­port­ing sur­vivors and a new draft will be ready by fall.

Gray ap­pears to have been among the first in Canada to file a hu­man rights com­plaint against a univer­sity over an al­leged sex­ual as­sault, said Silmi Ab­dul­lah, a lawyer with hu­man rights ex­per­tise.

Mean­while, a ver­dict in the crim­i­nal trial of the man ac­cused of as­sault­ing Gray is ex­pected Thurs­day. His lawyer did not re­spond to a re­quest for com­ment.

RICHARD LAUTENS, TORONTO STAR FILE PHOTO

Mandi Gray, a PhD stu­dent at York Univer­sity, says she was raped by a fel­low PhD stu­dent, and her univer­sity failed her.

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