Western University reels as student dies from assault; social media sparks investigation into alleged sexual violence

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The University of Western Ontario has been battling the death of a first-year student with injuries following an early morning attack and police have launched a separate investigation into social-media reports showing young women being drugged and sexually assaulted at the university’s residence. being subjected to violence.

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Gabriel Neal, 18, died in hospital on Sunday after an attack near campus in London, Ont., early Saturday. A 21-year-old man has been charged with murder. In an e-mail on Monday, a spokesman for London Police said the attack was not believed to be linked to allegations of sexual violence at a campus residence later this week.

In recent days, allegations of sexual violence have surfaced on TikTok and Twitter at a Friday night gathering at Medway-Sydenham Hall, the campus student residence. Western administrators and police in London said they had received no reports of such incidents and urged people to come forward with information.

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London Police said they were aware of information circulating on social media and had launched an investigation based on the gravity of the allegations. Since the students returned to campus last week, Western said it had received four complaints of sexual violence. No one is believed to be linked, nor are they tied to the charges that erupted from Medway-Sydenham Hall this weekend.

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In recent years, efforts to eliminate sexual violence on campus have been put in the spotlight because research has shown that university-age women are at higher risk of assault, especially in the first weeks after arriving on campus.

Chris Allene, interim associate vice president of student experience at Western, said the university is “disturbed and concerned” by reports of the alleged attacks this weekend.

“We are working really hard to clarify and confirm the information. But so far, we have received very little information related to these reports. So we ask our students and the campus community to come forward with any details. “Mr. Elene said in an interview, adding that the university was committed to working with the police.

The allegations first came to the attention of university officials on Saturday through rumors raised by staff at the campus residence, Mr Allene said. That same evening, an employee sent an e-mail to the students at the residence, asking people to come forward, offer assistance and make sure anyone who was injured could ask for help.

Those efforts continued on Monday, but the university still had not received a response to its request for information on the alleged incidents. The university said it had increased security at residences and had counselors, including experts on gender-based violence, on site to assist the students.

Mr Allene said in a statement that Western had acted swiftly in response. Four known complaints of sexual violence since last week, “including facilitating the arrest and removal of students from residence while the investigation continues.”

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News of the investigation has encouraged students to do consent work and education before they go to college or university campuses, says Farah Khan, co-director of the Courage to Act, a national project to address and prevent gender-based violence in postsecondary institutions in Canada. underlined the importance of .

Over the past several years, Ms Khan says there has been a big change in terms of colleges and universities acknowledging the need to address sexual violence on their campuses. But she says those efforts – be it dedicated offices or compulsory training – are uneven across the country.

“Universities and colleges can and should do better. But we are setting students up for failure by not providing comprehensive sexual health, relationship and consent education throughout grade school and high school,” she said.

Given the risk of violence faced by students, especially during the first few weeks of life at a post-secondary institution, Ms Khan insisted that work should begin much earlier.

“What are we doing to educate them so that they are prepared?” he said.

A Statscan report found that in 2019, slightly more than one in 10 women in a Canadian postsecondary setting reported assault in a single year. The report said that more than 70 percent saw or experienced unwanted sexual behavior.

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Mr Allene said sexual violence would never be tolerated in Western countries.

He said that as part of the university’s commitment to a safe campus, it last week organized a sexual violence education and prevention program with visiting first-year students, including programming on consent, healthy relationships and addressing rape culture. is included. Student residence staff and other student leaders are also trained on the university’s sexual and gender-based violence policy and how to refer students to appropriate services when complaints are made.

Lauryn Bikos, a third-year student at Western and an orientation leader, said on Twitter that the weekend’s events had a terrifying effect on the campus community. Many other students also expressed their views.

“I went home to med sid the students on Friday night. I thought I was taking them to safety. I don’t even want to think about the number of students who don’t feel safe in their rooms anymore , and he began this new chapter of his life with fear and trauma,” Ms Bikos said.

Other students on social media spoke of feeling unsafe on campus.

Our Morning Update and Evening Update newsletters are written by Granthshala editors, giving you a brief summary of the day’s most important headlines. .

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