For University of Windsor student Kate du Toit, the assault happened
long before she arrived on campus, when she was 15 years old. The evening started like a typical night out for a teenage girl. She and a group
of friends used fake IDs to sneak into a club. She’d had a few drinks and
was standing outside the bar when four men approached her. They started
talking to her and one of them took her purse.
“We’re only going to give it back to you if you come with us,” she re-
members one of them said. “My mom’s iPod was in the purse so that was
my major concern, getting that back.”
What happened next changed the course of her young life. They took
her to a house in an off-campus student-housing district near University
of Windsor, a house she still passes regularly. One of the men left; the
three others led her to a bedroom, locked the door and took turns sexual-
ly assaulting her. “I was screaming and crying,” she says. A neighbour or
housemate – she isn’t sure who he was – heard the noise, knocked on the
door and put a stop to the ordeal. He helped her into a cab and she went
home alone. The next day she took a morning-after pill purchased from a
drugstore and didn’t tell anyone about the incident for four years.
“At the time I felt a lot of shame and guilt,” says Ms. du Toit, now 20
and in her final year at U of Windsor. “I was 15 and downtown and in a
skimpy outfit. There were so many rules I was breaking. So I told myself,
I invited this.”
She became anorexic and developed other behavioural problems. “It
was basically four years of me spiraling downwards,” she says, until one
day, unable to bear it alone any longer, she told her parents. They con-
tacted the city’s sexual assault crisis centre and with the support of her
parents and counsellors Ms. du Toit started her recovery. Now she’s trying
to help other victims of sexual assault. She’s an advocate for an on-campus
sexual assault centre and is taking part in the university’s bystander inter-
vention initiative, a program designed to teach students how to spot risky
situations and coercive behaviours and to step in before an assault occurs.
U of Windsor was one of the first universities in Canada to adopt the
highly acclaimed intervention program originally developed by the Uni-
versity of New Hampshire. It teaches students to rethink supposedly nor-
mal dating practices that could put women at risk and dispels myths about
rape, like whether flirting or revealing outfits are contributing factors,
says Anne Forrest, director of U of Windsor’s women’s studies program.
It doesn’t treat men as potential perpetrators but as allies of survivors of
violence. And it gives students the know-how to respond to situations
safely and effectively – that doesn’t mean “getting into fisticuffs,” adds
Charlene Senn, professor of psychology and women’s studies, who intro-
duced the program along with Dr. Forrest. An effective response can be as
simple as spilling a drink on the aggressor or turning on the lights.
Dr. Forrest and Dr. Senn created two undergraduate courses in the
faculty of arts and social sciences to train workshop facilitators because
the university didn’t have the funds to pay for them. Students must apply
for one of the 50 spots, half of them reserved for men. In the first year, 160
people applied but then registrations tailed off, so the professors arranged
to have the courses cross-listed in the university calendar to make them
more visible. Recruiting men remains a challenge, and they have appealed
to male faculty members to help spread the word.
Once trained, the student facilitators work in pairs – one female and
one male – to deliver workshops to the broader student body. Since the
program was introduced in 2010, about 60 facilitators have been trained
and 800 students have taken a workshop. This year, students in the intro-
ductory business course and all incoming law students will be required to
take the workshop, and the program is being expanded.
While programs like the bystander initiative are taking root, Cana-
dian universities for the most part still lack the sexual assault policies
that are mandated in the U.S. by the federal Violence Against Women Act,
Title IX amendments and other regulations, says Dr. Senn. The Ontario
government published a resource guide for the province’s colleges and
universities in early 2013 that recommended measures to help prevent
sexual assaults and a response protocol for what to do when they occur. It
isn’t clear how many institutions have implemented the measures.
York University has appointed a working group to develop policies on
sexual assault awareness, prevention and response as well as disciplinary
procedures based on the Ontario resource guide. York was one of the first
“At the time I felt a lot of shame and guilt.
There were so many rules I was breaking,
so I told myself, I invited this.”