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Sexual violence survey results “deeply saddening,” MPP Piccini says

TCU Parliamentary Assistant talks delay in report’s release, working with student groups

Sexual violence survey results “deeply saddening,” MPP Piccini says

Content warning: discussions of sexual violence.

In light of the provincial government releasing the results of an Ontario-wide sexual violence survey on March 19, The Varsity sat down with David Piccini, current MPP for Northumberland—Peterborough South and Parliamentary Assistant to the Minister of Training, Colleges and Universities (TCU), to discuss the implications of the results and the delay in their release.

Student Voices on Sexual Violence was a survey commissioned by the previous Liberal government’s Ministry of Advanced Education and Skills Development (AESD), the Ministry of TCU under the current Progressive Conservative government.

“It’s, as far as I’m aware, the most comprehensive and in-depth look that’s gone to campuses and colleges around Ontario,” Piccini said.

It was sent to over 746,000 full-time students in all provincially-funded postsecondary institutions from February to April 2018. Across Ontario, over 160,000 students responded.

The results showed that at U of T, 61.7 per cent of respondents reported that they did not understand how to access supports, including how to report sexual violence. In addition, 22.9 per cent reported being dissatisfied with U of T’s response to sexual violence, 22.1 per cent reported that they had been stalked, 17.2 per cent reported a non-consensual sexual experience, and 58.7 per cent reported experiencing sexual harassment.

“The results were deeply saddening,” Piccini said. “One experience of assault or harassment on campus is really one too many.”

Piccini emphasized that the ministry took immediate action, mentioning the four initiatives released by TCU Minister Merrilee Fullerton alongside the release of the report.

Fullerton announced that the government would double the Women’s Campus Safety Grant, and require publicly-assisted colleges and universities to review their sexual violence policies by September, deliver annual reports to their board of governors about measures taken in response to sexual violence on campus, and create task forces to address sexual violence on campuses.

When asked about the potential release of further results from the survey, Piccini told The Varsity that the ministry has “referred [the report] to the Privacy Commissioner,” echoing Fullerton’s statements at the press conference when the report was released.

Fullerton had said that Ontario’s Information & Privacy Commissioner Brian Beamish will be consulted “on the release of additional survey results.”

When asked about why there was a delay in the release of the report, Piccini confirmed that it was a delay on the part of CCI Research, the company that developed and distributed the survey.

Piccini told The Varsity that the TCU received the survey results on March 17, two days prior to the public release on March 19. He also confirmed that postsecondary institutions received the report prior to its public release.

This is a marked shift from the release plan of the previous Liberal government, as this timeline leaves a window of no more than a day between when the report was released to postsecondary institutions and when it was released to the public.

In an interview with The Globe and Mail last year, Mitzie Hunter, previous Minister of AESD and current MPP of Scarborough—Guildwood, said that the results would be shared with postsecondary institutions in summer 2018. Hunter added that some of the data would be made public and has since criticized the Ford government for “hiding” the results.

However, Piccini contradicted this point. “The previous government had no plans to release this to the public,” he said.

When asked about Hunter’s statement that the AESD had planned to publicly release the data, Piccini said, “I can’t speculate on what she was planning or what she wasn’t planning when we were given this report.”

In terms of implementing the four initiatives, Piccini said that he expects “an ongoing dialogue.”

“The realities are different from one campus to the next. The geographic realities, the size, the various different marginalized groups on campus all present unique challenges that I think must be addressed uniquely to that institution.”

He emphasized his commitment to work further with student groups across campuses to discuss and develop better strategies to continue the conversation about the issue of sexual violence on campus.

“There is not a group I will not meet with,” he said.

When asked if there are any more initiatives on the horizon from the ministry surrounding this issue, Piccini did not give any specific examples, but he cited the ministry’s commitment to viewing this issue holistically, involving mental health in the discussion, and continuing “this ongoing dialogue, and ongoing discussions we’re having with universities.”

“[It’s] important to engage students,” he said. “The solutions to this are going to involve all of us, our entire community.”

Ontario government releases long-awaited results of survey on sexual violence at university campuses

Government doubles funding to Women’s Campus Safety Grant, implements new reporting requirements for universities

Ontario government releases long-awaited results of survey on sexual violence at university campuses

Content warning: descriptions of sexual violence.

A high number of reported sexual harassment, non-consensual sexual experiences, and lack of knowledge around university support systems were sobering highlights from the results of a sexual violence survey released on March 19 by the provincial government.

The Student Voices on Sexual Violence Survey was sent to over 746,000 full-time students in Ontario from February to March 2018 by the Ministry of Advanced Education and Skills Development, now the Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities (TCU).

The ministry had come under fire for the delay in releasing results, following reporting by The Varsity and the Queen’s Journal, Queen’s University’s student newspaper.

TCU Minister Merrilee Fullerton acknowledged that the released results were not comprehensive because the government needed to “protect the privacy of the survey participants.” She said that the ministry will be consulting Ontario’s Information & Privacy Commissioner Brian Beamish “on the release of additional survey results.”

In response to the released results, Fullerton announced that the provincial government plans to double investment in the Women’s Campus Safety Grant this year to $6 million. The annual grant funds campus initiatives including public education, drafting policy to prevent sexual violence, and improving security systems at universities.

The government will also require all publicly-assisted colleges and universities to review their sexual violence policies by September, create task forces to address sexual violence on campus, and draft an annual reports to their board of governors about measures taken in response to sexual violence on campus.

Survey results

A 37-page report summarizes the survey, which was administered by CCI Research Inc. and includes responses from 117,148 full-time university students of 441,499 invited, among other categories.

The report warns against interpretations of smaller data sets and comparing data between institutions; due to the voluntary nature of the report, each institution had a differing number of respondents.

Of 104,238 responses to five questions about knowledge of sexual violence supports at U of T, 61.7 per cent reported that they did not understand how to access supports related to sexual violence and did not understand the wider process for reporting incidents of sexual violence.

Out of 3,514 responses to eight questions, 42.4 per cent reported dissatisfaction with the U of T’s institutional response to sexual violence, which includes believing survivors of sexual violence and creating an environment where sexual violence is recognized as a problem.

In U of T students’ perception of consent, 89.6 per cent of 146,068 responses to seven questions demonstrated an understanding of consent as: revocable at any time, not measured by physical resistance, and required even when affected by decision-altering substances, among others — the remaining responses either took a neutral stance or disagreed with the above definitions.

U of T also had a high proportion of students who reported witnessing sexual violence including physical or verbal abuse, helping someone who was intoxicated, or informing university officials.

68.7 per cent of respondents reported being witnesses, with 67.3 per cent of those saying that they intervened in situations when incidents of sexual violence were witnessed.

4,628 respondents from U of T reported experiences of stalking and 12,293 reported instances of sexual harassment, including discrimination based on gender identity or sexual orientation and online and physical harassment.

3,602 out of 20,942 U of T students reported non-consensual sexual experiences, part of the 26,824 students from the broader university sector who reported instances of non-consensual sexual experiences.

New Democratic Party criticizes funding as insufficient

In response to a question asked during a press conference on the topic about whether the survey’s results warrant “greater action” than her announcements today, Fullerton said that the government’s plans are an “immediate response to an issue that has only just been reported back to [them],” but did not give further specifics about future plans.

Suze Morrison, a New Democratic Party MPP and the official opposition critic for women’s issues, lambasted the funding increase to the Women’s Campus Safety Grant as insufficient. She said that if the Ontario government was “serious about addressing the underlying systemic issues of… gender-based and sexual violence,” it would deliver on “promised funding to rape crisis centres across Ontario.”

The previous Liberal government had promised $14.8 million over three years to these centres as part of its gender-based violence strategy, but the current Progressive Conservative government has suspended plans for this funding.

Council of Ontario Universities welcomes data, U of T hopes to expand outreach

Sandy Welsh, leader of the Council of Ontario Universities’ Reference Group on Sexual Violence and Vice-Provost Students at U of T, was asked by The Varsity if her group would conduct follow-up or recurring surveys on sexual violence. Welsh deferred to the ministry, saying, “I cannot speak for what the ministry may do. I think it’s an important survey. We’re glad to have these results and look forward to any discussions in the future about other ways to survey.”

U of T Sexual Violence Prevention & Support Centre Director Angela Treglia spoke to The Varsity on the low proportion of students who felt that they understood the process for reporting instances of sexual violence.

“We have work to do to build and develop the awareness of the services that are available to people who’ve been affected by sexual violence on our campuses,” Treglia said. “We know and we want to get it right.”

The centre is a recent tri-campus development, having opened in 2017 with Treglia’s appointment as director. According the Treglia, the centre has held 200 workshops, reaching 8,000 participants at U of T, and continues to develop a system for supporting students so that “they have a place that they can go for confidential support and know that they’re not alone.”

On whether the initiatives announced by the ministry would be helpful to the centre, Treglia declined to comment. Treglia later went on to say that “we are striving and committed to creating a culture of care and a culture of consent on our campus.”

 

If you or someone you know has been affected by sexual violence, you can call:

  • Assaulted Women’s Helpline at 1-866-863-0511 (Toll Free), 1-866-863-7868 (TTY), and 416-863-0511 (Toronto)
  • Support Services for Male Survivors of Sexual Abuse at 1-866-887-0015
  • Toronto Rape Crisis Centre: Multicultural Women Against Rape at 416-597-8808
  • Good2Talk Student Helpline at 1-866-925-5454
  • Gerstein Crisis Centre Crisis Line at 416-929-5200
  • U of T Health & Wellness Centre at 416-978-8030
  • Sexual Violence and Prevention Centre at: (416) 978-2266 and svpscentre@utoronto.ca
    • UTSG: Gerstein Science Information Centre (Gerstein Library), Suite B139
    • UTM: Davis Building, Room 3094
    • UTSC: Environmental Science & Chemistry Building, EV141.

U of T student Samuel Marrello sentenced to 12 months probation, no jail time

Marrello was convicted of assault causing bodily harm against another student, found not guilty of sexual assault

U of T student Samuel Marrello sentenced to 12 months probation, no jail time

Content warning: descriptions of sexual violence.

U of T student Samuel Marrello has been sentenced to 12 months of probation and no jail time for the crime of assault causing bodily harm against a fellow U of T student.

Marrello was also charged with sexual assault, but was found not guilty of that charge in the verdict delivered on September 25.

Marrello was originally accused of hitting and sexually assaulting the complainant, who cannot be named due to a publication ban protecting her identity, while she was intermittently blacked out from intoxication and apparently could not consent to sex.

Following the verdict, the Crown sought a four-month jail sentence and 12 months of probation, while Marrello’s defence counsel sought a suspended sentence.

The incident occurred on April 1, 2017 and the trial began more than a year later on June 25, 2018.

The sentencing was handed down on February 4 by Justice C. Ann Nelson after a months-long deliberation process.

The deliberation

The complainant did not submit a victim impact statement, nor did she attend any of the sentencing dates.

In its arguments, the Crown called Marrello’s actions a “betrayal of trust” and a case of “gratuitous, demeaning violence.”

The Crown added that there is no indication that Marrello would not commit the same crime again, adding that he poses “some risk to future sexual partners.”

In court, Nelson read from her judgment that Marrello has already suffered collateral damage from the charges, including media coverage, online attacks, and relocation to Kingston after his roommates asked him to vacate their apartment.

She added that Marrello is a young man of otherwise good character, who is regarded as “intelligent, hardworking, and ambitious.”

Nelson said that his friends and family, many of whom were in court to support him, would provide a framework to prevent this from happening in the future.

Though the complainant’s “injuries were not insignificant” and Marrello’s actions were “reckless” and “opportunistic,” Nelson said that the “objective of rehabilitation remains large” and she thus found that a jail sentence was not appropriate.

Marrello will need to do 50 hours of community service during his probation, and have no contact with the complainant or attend any place where she might be, unless it is because they both study at U of T.

University’s response

When asked if the university would be taking any action, U of T spokesperson Elizabeth Church wrote to The Varsity, “We can’t discuss the specifics of a particular case because of personal privacy.”

“In general, when we are aware of conditions imposed by the court, the university ensures that measures and steps are in place to support those conditions.”

According to the U of T Code of Student Conduct, which governs students’ behaviour, “No person shall otherwise assault another person, threaten any other person with bodily harm, or knowingly cause any other person to fear bodily harm.”

Marrello’s lawyer did not respond to The Varsity’s request for comment. The Crown declined to comment on the sentence.

Ontario government needs to stop “hiding” results of sexual violence survey, MPP Mitzie Hunter says

Minister Fullerton refutes Hunter’s allegations, citing privacy concerns

Ontario government needs to stop “hiding” results of sexual violence survey, MPP Mitzie Hunter says

After The Varsity and the Queen’s Journal reported that the Ontario government still has not released data from a province-wide sexual violence survey conducted last year, the Liberal MPP who initiated the survey has rebuked the Progressive Conservatives (PC) for “hiding” the results, further linking it to criticisms of the PC changes to postsecondary education.

On February 12, Mitzie Hunter, former Liberal Minister of Advanced Education and Skills Development (AESD) and current MPP for Scarborough—Guildwood, released a statement demanding that the Ford government release the results of the Student Voices on Sexual Violence survey.

Under Hunter, the survey was developed and administered by the Ministry of AESD, currently known as the Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities (TCU), and sent to all postsecondary institutions in the province.

Months after the estimated date set by the previous Liberal administration for the release of the survey data, schools and students alike still have not seen the results.

Merrilee Fullerton, the current Minister of TCU, adopted the responsibility of handling the release of the survey results when she succeeded Hunter. When asked by The Varsity about the results, Fullerton said that privacy concerns have caused the delay.

In her statement released this week, Hunter said, “This is a report that should have been released months ago. The Minister’s excuses so far have no credibility.”

In a previous interview with The Varsity, Hunter said that when developing the survey, “There was thought given to confidentiality and the privacy of those [completing] the survey.”

“[The government] has been hiding a report that will shed light on sexual violence on university campuses,” Hunter wrote in her statement. “What’s concerning is that universities and colleges won’t have money to take action on this report once it’s released,” referring to the province’s 10 per cent cut to tuition.

“Ford’s post-secondary education plan is taking millions of dollars out of post-secondary institutions… there will be limited money at best to combat sexual violence on campus,” Hunter wrote.

In response, Fullerton released a statement saying, “I am deeply disappointed in MPP Hunter, who used to be a Minister of the crown and is now choosing to politicize the privacy of sexual assault survivors.”

Fullerton reiterated the privacy concerns. “When I am satisfied the data fully protects participant privacy, I will release the survey results on this important issue. I will not be rushed into reckless action, as MPP Hunter suggests.”

When asked by The Varsity for an approximate timeline for the release of the survey results, Fullerton’s Director of Communications Stephanie Rea said that no date has been set, as “it depends on how long the vendor takes.”

When asked about the privacy concerns, Rea said that the Ministry of TCU “[has] not seen the data. It is still with the vendor, and will not be released to us until it is proven all confidentiality has been maintained.”

When The Varsity previously reached out to the vendor, CCI Research, it referred all questions to the Ministry of TCU.

Ford government yet to release results of Ontario-wide sexual violence survey conducted a year ago

Ministry cites privacy concerns for delay

Ford government yet to release results of Ontario-wide sexual violence survey conducted a year ago

In February 2018, over 20,000 U of T students completed Student Voices on Sexual Violence, an Ontario-wide survey about sexual violence sent by the provincial government to all postsecondary institutions. However, one year later the results have still not been released and the current Progressive Conservative (PC) government was unable to give a timeline on when the results can be expected.

With more than 160,000 students participating, the survey was created to help the province and universities benchmark and understand sexual violence.

It was developed in fall 2017 by the previous Liberal government’s Ministry of Advanced Education and Skills Development, currently known under the PC government as the Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities (TCU).

In an interview with The Globe and Mail in March 2018, Mitzie Hunter, the previous Liberal minister and current MPP for Scarborough—Guildwood, said that the results would be released to postsecondary institutions in summer 2018, and that certain portions of the report would be released to the public that fall.

After the Liberals lost the June 2018 provincial election to the PCs, MPP Merrilee Fullerton succeeded Hunter as the new Minister of TCU, taking over responsibility for the release of the data.

Government blames privacy concerns for delay

Fullerton’s office told The Varsity that the results of the survey have not been compiled due to concerns about the confidentiality of students.

When asked for the reasons behind the delay and for a release date, Fullerton’s media relations representative Tanya Blazina wrote that the survey vendor, identified as CCI Research on the survey’s website, is “continuing the process of compiling the data in a way that protects participant privacy.”

“Initial projections underestimated the time this work would take.”

When pressed again for a release date, Blazina repeated that the project had underestimated the timeline.

According to the FAQ on the survey’s website, “CCI Research will conduct this survey in a manner that protects your identity… Results will only ever be reported in a format that preserves confidentiality.”

When CCI Research was asked by The Varsity to independently verify the government’s assessment about the survey’s progress, the company redirected all questions to Blazina.

When The Varsity asked Hunter about the delayed results, she noted that confidentiality was the utmost concern when developing the survey.

“I think [Fullerton] should explain what the risks are… There was thought given to confidentiality and the privacy of those [completing] the survey so that it would not be attributable to any individual,” she said.

“The survey has been completed by students for quite some time,” said Hunter. “It’s Minister Fullerton’s responsibility to make those results known to students and to the public.”

Increasing demands to release the data

Pressure has been mounting on the Ford government to release the survey results to universities and the public.

According to U of T Vice-Provost Students Sandy Welsh, the results of the survey currently remain unknown to schools and students alike.

“We have not received the data nor have any other universities,” she wrote to The Varsity.

Likewise, the Queen’s Journal, Queen’s University’s student paper, recently reported that Queen’s also has not received the results.

U of T group Silence is Violence, which recently released a 60-page report on sexual violence on campus, released a statement condemning the delay.

“The delay in releasing the data represents the PC government’s deprioritization of issues impacting women and other marginalized groups most affected by sexual trauma,” wrote Jessica Wright and Simran Dhunna, representatives of Silence is Violence.

Wright, a PhD candidate at U of T and researcher for Silence is Violence, believes that the survey’s results are necessary to create a safer campus.

“In order for [U of T] to act in accordance with Bill 132, which stipulates that they have [to] review their policies at least once every three years and then amend them as appropriate, and also [to] include student input in that process, we need to see the data from universities and colleges,” Wright told The Varsity. “We need to see what students said.”

Believe them

Examining sexual violence in academic spaces through the Neil deGrasse Tyson case

Believe them

A problematic side effect of the #MeToo movement is its overrepresentation of the stories of celebrities who have experienced sexual assault, at the expense of the experiences and stories of ordinary people. We need to remember that sexual assault is not an issue specific to Hollywood.

Of course it’s important to listen when any person, famous or not, speaks out about their experiences. But by focusing mostly on the experiences of those who are wealthy and privileged, we inadvertently ignore the experiences of everyone else.

This mindset is pervasive — it exists here at our university, and at many others too. As a recent report by the group Silence is Violence has revealed, around 20 per cent of students surveyed had experienced an incident that may be considered sexual violence. The report includes alleged perpetrators who are academic authorities: professors.

In the academic sphere, the deep power imbalance at every level contributes to the pervasiveness of sexual violence. As students, we might feel pressured to go along with inappropriate behaviour to maintain a formal relationship with certain professors we may even think it is the norm. And when the person in question also happens to be well-known, respected in their field, and charismatic, it becomes that much more difficult to come forward.

Nowhere is this power imbalance better exemplified than with Dr. Neil deGrasse Tyson, who is currently the subject of an investigation by Fox Entertainment and National Geographic, the networks that air one of one of his programs, Cosmos. His other program, StarTalk, was put on hiatus by National Geographic in early January while the investigation is being conducted.

Tyson is the crossing point between academic and celebrity. He is a household name, thanks to his accomplishments in astrophysics and scientific literacy advocacy. Thus, he presents us with a headlining case of how predators in academia can operate.

The accusations

Tyson has four accusations levelled against him. Dr. Katelyn Allers, a professor at Bucknell University in Pennsylvania, alleges that Tyson grabbed and touched her inappropriately during an American Astronomical Society (AAS) gathering in 2009.

Ashley Watson worked briefly as an assistant and driver for Tyson, while the show Cosmos was being filmed. She alleges that he repeatedly acted inappropriately toward her, made sexual advances, and invited her to his home, alone, for alcoholic drinks.

Another woman, who has chosen to remain anonymous, alleges that he made inappropriate comments toward her at a holiday party in the American Museum of Natural History in 2010. Then, there is the fourth and oldest accusation. A woman named Tchiya Amet alleges that Tyson drugged and raped her when they were both graduate students at the University of Texas at Austin in 1984.

In response to all but the anonymous claim, Tyson made a Facebook post on December 1, writing, “In any claim, evidence matters. Evidence always matters. But what happens when it’s just one person’s word against another’s, and the stories don’t agree? That’s when people tend to pass judgment on who is more credible than whom.

In and of itself, that is a valid point. In cases of sexual assault and harassment, which so often happen in private, with few or no witnesses, it can be hard to provide solid evidence beyond the memories of those involved, especially if the event happened years or decades ago.

Tyson’s response to Katelyn Allers and Ashley Watson

Tyson frames the incident with Allers as him taking a quick look to see if her tattoo of the solar system included Pluto. Allers describes Tyson’s behaviour as “uncomfortable and creepy” and says that he does not have “great respect for female bodily autonomy.”

Allers has also said that, had she been able to, she would have probably reported the incident as sexual harassment. But at the time, the AAS did not have a mechanism for reporting sexual harassment. Like so many academic institutions, the AAS took far too long to develop a response to what was a clear issue.

Here at U of T, resources for those who have experienced sexual violence are still few and far between. The tri-campus Sexual Violence Prevention and Support Centre only opened in 2017.

As for Watson, Tyson similarly tries to reframe the incidents to make himself seem more innocent. He characterizes their relationship as being close and friendly during the time she was employed as his assistant.

He does acknowledge saying to her, “If I hug you I might just want more,” but he also describes the incident as a well-meaning attempt to “express restrained but genuine affection.” And then, rather than acknowledge the discussion that he allegedly had with her when she came to his home for wine and cheese, he skips ahead in his narrative to her coming to his office afterward to describe the event as “creepy.”

Tyson straddles the line between trying to say that he had, and still has, the utmost respect for Watson, while also casting doubt on her narrative. Tyson writes, “She viewed the invite as an attempt to seduce her,” adding that their conversation was similar to how they always spoke to each other.

Tyson is selective when responding to Watson’s accusations, which gives him the wiggle room to selectively apologize. In Watson’s telling of the story, Tyson took off his shoes and shirt, put on “romantic” music, began talking about how humans need “releases” including “physical releases,” and referred to Watson as being “distracting.”

Tyson reframes both Watson and Allers’ cases to his advantage. Merely reading his response to the accusation makes him seem well-meaning and apologetic, and the accusations less serious. But as Tyson himself points out, the different versions of these stories don’t line up.

Tchiya Amet’s allegation

According to Amet, she and Tyson were friendly but did not date during their time together as graduate students. Then one day, in 1984, Amet says that Tyson offered her water, which, unbeknownst to her, was drugged, causing her to pass out and awaken with him performing oral sex on her. When he saw that she was awake, Amet says, he got on top of her and continued to rape her, and she passed out again.

Tyson acknowledges the seriousness of Amet’s allegations against him, but he frames the story quite differently. First, he says that he and Amet dated briefly and had been intimate a few times at her apartment. And then, rather than simply deny the allegations, Tyson goes further and brings up several facts about Amet, most of which are irrelevant to her story. He discusses how she dropped out of her graduate program failing to mention that Amet says this was because she was suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) after the alleged incident — how she changed her name, and that she holds some unusual spiritual beliefs.

Tyson brings up Amet’s idiosyncratic ideas and beliefs for no other reason but to discredit her. He  tells his audience to associate her with something unscientific, thus positioning himself as correct, logical, and honest. This creates a narrative that we have seen time and time again. Instead of discussing Amet’s allegations at a human level, Tyson positions himself as a logical, calm, scientific authority, and characterizes Amet as ignorant and confused.

Indeed, he even writes, “As a scientist, I found [her beliefs] odd.” It is Tyson’s analysis of her actual story, however, that seems most disturbing. He repeats that some parts of her memory are fuzzy and that she cannot remember every detail, suggesting that she has a “false memory” of the event.

As a scientist, Tyson should be aware that trauma can have profoundly strong effects on memory. Indeed, a large part of PTSD, according to researcher Dr. Kristin W. Samuelson, includes “the inability to recall important aspects of the trauma” and “that memory deficits are a product of neurobiological abnormalities caused by PTSD.

Combine this with Amet’s claims to have been drugged and passed out several times, and it’s no wonder that she has some difficulty recalling details of the alleged event. But for Tyson, and for his supporters, nothing Amet claims really matters. As a scientist, Tyson is given the kind of benefit of the doubt that Amet would never be given. By merely pointing to his own credentials, he is able to dismiss her claims entirely, because, again, he is a scientist and academic, and she is not.

While Tyson responded fairly quickly to the accusations by Watson and Allers and the media was also quick to report upon them, Amet has been telling her story since 2010. However, her accusations have only gotten mainstream press coverage recently. Since Amet has such “odd” beliefs, and since she dropped out of her graduate program, she has likely lost some credibility. Also, unlike Allers and Watson, Amet is a Black woman, which likely contributed to her being seen as less believable.

Believe them

At the end of the day, the strongest evidence anyone has to go on about all of these accusations is what those involved say. Tyson presents himself as an honest and trustworthy scientist. Conversely, he presents his accusers, particularly Amet, as untrustworthy. He reframes incidents to seem more innocent and to make his interactions with Allers and Watson seem like innocent mistakes, instead of predatory behavior.

But it shouldn’t matter at all what his motivations were. It doesn’t matter that he’s a famous scientist, or if Amet has strange spiritual beliefs or not. The only thing that actually matters is that we have four women who accused Tyson of predatory behaviour. We have to listen to them.

In the beginning of his Facebook post, Tyson notes that, “For a variety of reasons, most justified, some unjustified, men accused of sexual impropriety in today’s ‘me-too’ climate are presumed to be guilty by the court of public opinion.” This argument is a misleading one. It suggests that such allegations should instead be dealt with in a court of law, because a “court of public opinion” unfairly judges the accused without due process.

But the #MeToo movement is not a legal phenomenon. I doubt most of the people who believe Tyson’s accusers want Tyson to automatically be sent to jail without due process. #MeToo is primarily about providing voice to those who have been long silenced.

For so long, survivors of sexual violence, be they Hollywood starlets or students right here at U of T, were not believed. They were — and still are — dismissed as liars or attention seekers. There was no public accountability. And so their anger turned into decades of silence and shame. Meanwhile, those accused were always given the benefit of the doubt.

Even now, as the recent report from Silence is Violence shows us, institutions that are meant to protect survivors too often let them down, especially when the accused are intellectual authority figures who have gained public trust. As a society, as a university, and as individuals, we have to do better at doing the work of listening to survivors and taking them seriously. So let’s listen to Amet, Allers, and Watson.

Adina Heisler is a fourth-year Women and Gender Studies and English student at University College.

Years of sexual misconduct allegations from underage women hasn’t affected his success — but is time finally up for R. Kelly?

2019 is the year that we finally hold R. Kelly accountable

Years of sexual misconduct allegations from underage women hasn’t affected his success — but is time finally up for R. Kelly?

Content warning: discussions of sexual violence.

Robert Sylvester Kelly, or R. Kelly, is one of the most well-known R&B artists in the music industry. He has sold up to 100 million records globally, including singles such as “Ignition (Remix)” and “I Believe I Can Fly.” He wrote Michael Jackson’s hit “You Are Not Alone,” and has collaborated with various artists such as Chris Brown, Lady Gaga, and Celine Dion.

R. Kelly’s success, however, has been clouded by dozens of sexual abuse claims involving girls as young as 14. Lifetime’s highly anticipated, six-part docuseries, Surviving R. Kelly, provides commentary from journalists, activists, and celebrities on the decades of sexual misconduct allegations against R. Kelly.

Initial reports concerning R. Kelly were brought to media attention through his controversial relationship with his teenage protégée, Aaliyah. The release of her debut album, Age Ain’t Nothing but a Number, which Kelly produced, gave rise to speculations of a romance that led to a secret marriage. This marriage, although denied by R. Kelly, was supported with the release of an alleged marriage certificate that declared Aaliyah’s age as 18 — even though records show that she was 15 and Kelly was 27 at the time.

In 2002, the artist was indicted on 21 counts of child pornography after a sex tape showing him urinating into the mouth of a 14-year-old girl was released. Although he was eventually acquitted on the remaining charges in 2008, the fact that he continued to be a prominent figure in the music industry — even after the wide distribution of bootleg copies of his tape — is upsetting. Television shows such as Boondocks and Chappelle’s Show undermined the severity of his charges by adding a comic spin to the incident. Additionally, R. Kelly’s album release in 2003 justified support for him despite these revelations about his predatory behaviour.

In 2012, R. Kelly released his memoir, Soulacoaster, that revealed that he was molested as a child growing up in the South Side of Chicago. In a 2016 interview with GQ magazine, the artist recounted being abused by a female relative for six to eight years. Shockingly enough, when asked about his thoughts on the experience, Kelly referred to the abuse as a “generational curse,” in which members of his family, who were victimized as children, became abusers when they grew up. Although this is an attempt to come to terms with the trauma of his sexual abuse, this claim is unusual considering that R. Kelly has denied all allegations of sexual assault made against him over the years.

Amid the controversy surrounding Surviving R. Kelly, celebrities such as Chance the Rapper and Lady Gaga have taken to social media to condemn the R&B singer, even removing their collaborations with him from streaming platforms. Furthermore, RCA Records dropped R. Kelly from its record label and prosecutors in Chicago and Atlanta have reportedly launched investigations into the sexual misconduct claims against him. But while these actions are much needed, they are long overdue.

Despite the amount of attention that Surviving R. Kelly has brought to the artist’s history of sexual abuse, it is important to note that it simply restates allegations that have been disclosed to the public in the past. It is no secret that R. Kelly preys on Black girls; a simple Google search reveals a plethora of disturbing evidence that dates back as far as 1994.

Historically, Black women and girls have been cast in society as essentially ‘unrapeable.’ Common stereotypes that portray them as loud, angry, barbaric, and whorish have contributed to the idea that they are incapable of being victims of sexual assault and are undeserving of the same responses afforded to white women in the same circumstances.

What would have happened if R. Kelly’s accusers were white?

If society would be willing to hold R. Kelly accountable for alleged actions against white women, why has it taken so long to respond to his exploitations of Black women? Why has it taken until 2019 for the voices of R. Kelly’s survivors to finally be heard?

However, this is not just a problem that can be blamed on the shortcomings of society at large. The Black community has also played a role in perpetuating decades of R. Kelly’s sexual offences. This is part of a larger dilemma that has seen this community ignore to his abuses for “the sake of racial solidarity,” as suggested by journalist Sesali Bowen. On separate occasions, both Chance the Rapper and Ohio State University professor Treva Lindsey have elaborated on this, explaining how the Black community has become “hypersensitized to [Black] male oppression.”

The most prominent view of the Black community centres on the struggles of Black men living in the racist climate of the United States, where they are criminalized because of the colour of their skin. This creates the perception that the negative actions of one Black man are representative of the entire Black population. As a result, there’s a sense of protectionism around the image of the ‘Black man’ that overlooks his treatment of Black women — especially, in the case of R. Kelly, where the allegations of sexual misconduct against him have taken a back seat to his prominence in the entertainment industry.

In the age of Time’s Up and #MeToo, a number of male celebrities have faced consequences for their inappropriate actions against women. However, R. Kelly has not faced the same reality as these men. Movements such as #MuteRKelly have been successful in cancelling his concerts and limiting his radio play, yet this progress continues to be offset by his fans who have taken to social media to discredit survivors and by individuals who continue to stream his music.

By continuing to listen to R. Kelly’s music, we are fostering the belief that R. Kelly is untouchable, and undeserving of the same punishments that we have given to other male celebrities who have used their status to exploit women. There are too many allegations against R. Kelly for us to continue to ignore them.

It is time for us to stand in solidarity with the survivors of his sexual misconduct.

R. Kelly has not been indicted on any counts of sexual misconduct, and as of press time, continues to deny all allegations against him.

Silence is Violence releases years-long report on sexual violence at U of T

20 per cent of respondents report experiencing sexual violence, marginalized students experience higher rates

Silence is Violence releases years-long report on sexual violence at U of T

A 60-page report from grassroots organization Silence is Violence (SiV) revealed major systemic issues regarding the prevalence and university’s treatment of sexual assault cases across all three U of T campuses.

A feminist activist group at U of T addressing rape culture and sexual violence on university campuses, SiV released its report on January 21 after beginning the project in 2016.

The report details statistics on identity and their relation to the prevalence of sexual violence, as well as overall awareness and attitudes toward existing resources and governing policies.

The findings come from a survey of more than 500 anonymous students, ranging in racial and ethnic backgrounds, gender identities, sexual orientations, and programs of study. SiV acknowledged the limitations of its methodology, namely that it overrepresented women and that participants were anonymous.

Statistics across demographics

Approximately 52.2 per cent of participants indicated that their lives as students had been impacted by sexual violence.

Moreover, as many as 20 per cent reported experiencing at least one instance of sexual violence during their time at U of T or were uncertain whether the incident they experienced was an act of sexual violence. Further, 30 per cent of students indicated that they knew of someone who had experienced sexual violence on campus.

In an interview with The Varsity, SiV team lead and U of T PhD student Jessica Wright shared her concern with the high proportion of instances when students were unsure if what they had experienced was sexual violence.

“I’d say one of the most surprising findings for me personally was that there were so many descriptions of physical violence and experiences of coercion that students didn’t identify or think constituted sexual violence,” said Wright. “I think that speaks to a lack of awareness about what constitutes sexual violence and the epidemic.”

The study further found that marginalized students believed that their identities — whether racial, gendered, sexual, or regarding disabilities — affected their perpetrator’s actions. According to the report, marginalized students experience a disproportionately high rate of sexual violence.

Indigenous respondents reported a rate of 74.1 per cent. Survivors with a disability and mental health issue reported a rate of 92.3 per cent.

Out of the 544 participants, seven (1.3 per cent) identified as Indigenous. Furthermore, 12 (2.2 per cent) identified as disabled/deaf, 13 (2.4 per cent) identified as mad or having a mental health issue, and 13 (2.4 per cent) identified as both.

“It is imperative that the university recognizes that sexual violence disproportionately affects marginalized people and that survivors of sexual violence can never be effectively supported by a universal ‘one-size-fits-all’ response,” reads the report.     

Wright said that the fact that marginalized students experience higher rates of sexual violence must be “explicitly recognized by the university and considered in every action to address sexual violence on campus.”

“In order for there to be a response to marginalized students at the university, we need intersectional responses,” said Wright.

Reporting sexual violence cases

Of the students who experienced cases of sexual violence, 75 per cent said they were unable or unwilling to report their assault. A variety of factors played into students’ decisions, particularly distrust in receiving the necessary help from university officials.

“As a female, you’re supposed to be passive. You’re never in the right. You’re malicious and melodramatic. I believed, and to some degree still do, that it was my actions that put me in that place and that I was in no position to speak up about what had happened. Above all, I didn’t think anyone would believe me,” wrote one participant.

The 25 per cent of participants who were able to report their assault were not satisfied with the resources provided or did not follow through with the report.

When asked about their comfort level with reporting sexual violence to Campus Police, participants rated it a 5.47 out of 10 on average. When asked the same regarding university staff, the average score was 5.09 out of 10.

Some students experienced sexual assault from university faculty, with one student reporting an incident with an associate dean, accounting for larger distrust in senior staff. Only one student indicated that they were able to report with a clear end result.

Next steps for the university

Of the 544 participants, 11.4 per cent expressed confidence in the university’s efforts to prevent and respond to sexual violence, while 33.4 per cent expressed neutrality.

Survivors criticized campus authorities and staff in their handling of sexual violence cases, questioning both the training and experience of officials and their commitment to prevention and adequate response efforts.  

“University of Toronto staff (especially those who are higher up the hierarchy) are deeply invested in protecting the institution’s brand. Their #1 priority is themselves and the institution, not the students,” wrote one student.

“I think that UofT doesn’t have a very deep analysis of the issue and they aren’t really committed to stopping sexual violence from happening, only to making it look like it has stopped happening,” wrote another participant about the university’s commitment to sexual violence prevention.

Overall, participants called for a series of transparent and accessible sexual violence resources on campus, as well as a more welcoming and open environment.

One of the major recommendations from the report was for an autonomous Anti-Sexual Violence and Survivor Support Hub. The hub would operate as a space for students to receive counselling and education, as well as a route for disclosing or reporting sexual violence.

Wright said that the hub would have to be autonomous from U of T “because we know that the university unfortunately does have a vested interest in protecting their reputation when it comes to the prevalence of sexual violence on campus.”

Currently, U of T operates a Sexual Violence Prevention & Support Centre to deal with disclosures and reports. However, respondents reported a low awareness of the centre, with only 4.2 per cent referencing it as a resource.

In contrast, 40 per cent of respondents referenced the Campus Police as their primary source of reference for sexual violence cases. However, racialized students found it a barrier when seeking assistance.

As of January 1, 2017, the university has a Sexual Violence and Harassment policy in place, detailing specifics about sensitive information disclosure, reporting, and resources for survivors. Critics have raised concerns over the lack of a sexual violence prevention committee and efforts on prevention-led education.

The Varsity spoke to Angela Treglia, Director of the university’s Sexual Violence Prevention & Support Centre, about the report’s findings.

The centre is fairly new — starting its tri-campus operations in 2017 — and Treglia acknowledges that there is still a lot of work that needs to be done.

“There is a recognition around the intersection of sexual violence and other forms of discrimination and harassment. We definitely recognize that there are individuals from marginalized communities who are disproportionately affected by sexual violence,” said Treglia.

“The Sexual Violence Prevention & Support Centre was developed as a space for individuals who experience sexual violence for them to go and get support, and we take an intersectional and client-centred approach to our work.”

She explained that the centre hopes to work  with equity and outreach groups on campus in order to respond to the needs of minority groups and continues to listen to student feedback.

When it comes to what the school can do better, the report states that, “The University of Toronto must be more intentional in its response to sexual violence on campus if it is to ever legitimately support survivors at U of T; there must be a move to transparent, accessible, well-advertised, and survivor-driven sexual violence resources, such as those outlined in our recommendations.”

With files from Josie Kao

Editor’s Note (March 7, 10:47 pm): This article has been updated to clarify the sample size of students who identified as Indigenous, disabled/deaf, and mad/having a mental health issue.