Why Universities Are Unsafe: A Canadian Context


Post-secondary institutes are a community within themselves. Individual universities and colleges have their own gyms, pubs, housing, restaurants, rules, regulations and campus policing. All communities whether they are small rural towns or large cities are unfortunately affected by crime. The government of Canada, both federally and provincially enforce protective policies and laws to ensure the safety of the citizens of Canada. Post-secondary campuses, with the support of the Canadian government, have added additional measures to ensure the safety of its students. Despite these safety precautions, “4 out of 5 undergraduate students said that they had been victims of violence in a dating relationship” (Canadian Federation of Students – Ontario, 2013). Also, recent newspaper headlines state, “Sixth sex attack rocks UBC as campus searches for assailant” (Bains, 2013). Acknowledging that students are susceptible to campus violence and creating awareness is the first step in creating safer campuses. The purpose of the paper is to examine three distinctive issues on post-secondary campuses: sex crimes (sexual assault and rape), intimate partner violence (IPV), and murder. Finally, suggestions to assist in ending this problem will be examined.

University and colleges are flourishing associations that empower, teach and produce the leaders of the next generation. Students who inhabit Canada’s universities and colleges generally believe in a successful future for themselves and society, and in doing so are ready to participate in this movement by investing not only years of their lives but also, large sums of money.  Choosing to become a part of a post-secondary institution is an exciting time. However, underlying issues such as campus violence can hinder the joyful experience. “Campus violence impacts  students, staff, and faculty in many ways” (Carr, 2007). When individuals are harmed on campus it has detrimental side-effects on their ability to study, focus, attend and teach class. In some circumstances student victims may move home to recover or withdraw from classes all together, due to shame and fear of running into the assailant again. One problematic issue that plagues campuses is the amount of incidences that go unreported to campus security and police. According to Carr; “The main reasons given by students for not reporting these crimes were (39%) too minor, private matter (16%), and not clear it was a crime (5%)” (2007). If crimes are unreported it is difficult to find a solution to help elevate the problem if there is no accurate statistics to base funding from. Shockingly, unlike the United States, Canadian post-secondary institutes are not legally required to reveal information about campus violence and crime. Under the Clergy Act, American universities and colleges are required to make campus crime statistics available for students and parents, Canada has no such policy.

Failure to report campus crime can result in serious consequences to the students and the university itself. “There have been many of cases in the U.S. involving students and/or their families who have sued a university or college because of violent campus crime” (DuPlessis, 1993). Fortunately there have been no reported cases in Canada of students and families suing post-secondary schools for “negligence”, however this does not mean there haven’t been unwanted incidences of violence on Canadian campuses. Understanding that campus violence is under-reported, many campuses across Canada recruit students and parents on the basis of safe interactive environments. The likely hood of parents sending their children to a school that has been compromised due to campus violence is poor.

The Severity of Campus Violence in Canada

During the 2009/2010 academic year there were 1,905,516 students registered in university and colleges in Canada. This number was up by 8.5% from 2008/2009. With the demand from employers for post-secondary degrees this number is steadily increasing.  With additional students enrolling, campus safety should be considered a top priority. “North American research suggests that anywhere from 15 to 25 percent of college and university-aged women will experience some form of sexual assault during their academic career” (Lichty, 2008).

This statistic is reinforced with the recent attacks of six separate women at the University of British Columbia’s, Vancouver campus. The attacks didn’t make newspaper headlines until late September of 2013, when a fifth girl was sexually assaulted by a single male assailant when she was walking home in the early morning hours. During the attack “the man placed his hands around the women’s hips and attempted to drag her into the woods. During this attack…the suspect also ripped at her clothing under her skirt” (Crawford, 2013). The woman was also punched in the face. A month prior to this attack, three separate instances took place in October of 2013 at UBC, when three young university women were sexually assaulted in a similar manor. Since these attacks it has been determined that the same perpetrator sexually assaulted two additional women in April and May of 2013. Canadian citizens must question why weren’t the student body, faculty and staff altered after the first attack?As a result of the 2013 attacks, UBC has increased security measures by enforcing a “Safe Walk” program by reminding students not to walk alone and use the “buddy system”. Security patrols have also been increased and a university shuttle bus has been implemented, that runs until 4am.

Despite the heightened security measures many students feel unsafe. Camille Bains from the National Post interviewed a student who stated, “I feel that the frequency of the attacks definitely makes me feel less safe on campus” (2013).  Is this the case of, too little, too late?The investigation has been handed over to the RCMP’s Major Crimes Unit. Sgt. Drew Grainger of the RCMP’s university detachmentstated, “It’s really put into focus just how vulnerable young people can be in an environment such as this when they’re not taking proper precautions” (Bains, 2013). While analyzing Grainger’s statement one should pay attention to his choice of words. Grainger notes that students “… [are] not taking proper precautions.” This subtle accusation towards the students, insinuates that the victims have taken responsibility in their own assaults. This statement has added fuel to an already raging fire. Blaming the victim is far from productive. “Slate columnist Emily Yoffe stoked uproar when she said that female university and college students ought not to get black-out drunk if they wanted to avoid being sexually attacked since rapists tend to prey on women in vulnerable states” (Bains, 2013).

The term “rape culture” has been coined in recent years to describe the change in attitudes towards sexual violence. Rape culture is defined, where attitudes towards sexual violence and rape are normalized and even tolerated as part of society. Margaret Wente of The Globe and Mail asks “…how much sexual violence is there? It’s an epidemic, we’re told. According to many students – and also professors – “rape culture” is pervasive on campuses across North America. Even elite schools are not exempt” (Wente, 2013). Wente continues to state that she doesn’t “…except the notion of “rape culture” to die down any time soon” (Wente, 2013).

Rape culture has been further paraded into the spot light by events that took place at University of British Columbia and Saint Mary’s University in Nova Scotia. Chants broke out at both universities during the fall 2013 “frosh week”. The chants, targeted at university freshman during their first week of school, condoned underage, non-consensual sex. Student leaders at both universities were well aware of the intent and purpose of the chants and have stated that the chants have been in use for twenty years, something faculty say they were unaware of. “According to many students the problems go deep. On our campuses, there is a culture of rape, of non-consent,  a female student at the University of British Columbia told Global TV” (Wente, 2013). Unfortunately Margaret Wente’s words may be true. How can society expect the term “rape culture” to disappear from popular discourse when victims are blamed for their own victimization by the very people who are supposed to protect them?

Sex Crimes on Campus

According to the Canadian Federation of Student’s – Ontario, “many on-campus sexual assaults occur during the first eight weeks of classes” (2013). Sexual assault is considered an assault of sexual nature that compromises the integrity of the victim.  Despite the high profile case of the University of British Columbia’s sexual assaults, most sexual assaults go un-reported and even less of the perpetrators are apprehended. A shocking statistic that outlines the real crisis surrounding sex crimes on campus states; “Surveys on males students have shown extremely problematic attitudes whether they have been a perpetrator of sexual violence or not. One survey showed that 60 percent of Canadian college-aged males indicated that they would commit sexual assault if they were certain they would never be caught” (Canadian Federation of Students-Ontario, 2013). If this statistic wasn’t slightly bewildering the fact that “20 percent of male students believe forced sex was acceptable if someone spent money on a date, if the person’s date was stoned or drunk or if individuals have been dating for a while” (Canadian Federation of Students- Ontario, 2013), is terrifying. To properly evaluate sex crimes on post-secondary campuses males cannot be viewed as the sole assailants. Sex crimes do not differentiate between the sexes. “The majority (88%) of perpetrators in male sexual assaults are straight men” (Hodge and Canter, 1998). The University of Ottawa continues to reinforce that “Sexual assault is a crime committed primarily by men against women. This is not to discount that men can and do experience sexual assault and that women are also perpetrators of sexual assault at times” (Sexual Assault, n.d).

Intimate Partner Violence

Intimate partner violence or IPV can be described as the actual or threat of physical, sexual, verbal or emotional abuse of a person by whom they have had an intimate relationship with. The Canadian Federation of Students-Ontario states that “almost one in five reported sexual offences against women occur with an intimate partner” (2013). IPV is also referred to domestic or dating violence. IPV can vary between frequency and severity. IPV does not discriminate between sexes, race, social class, sexual orientation and age; however college and university aged students between the ages 16-24 were at the highest risk for IPV. Unfortunately IPV is often repetitive.  “Nearly one-third of college students report physically assaulting a dating partner in the previous 12 months” (Straus, 2004). Some possible reasons why female students between the ages of 16-24 are at a higher risk for IPV is due to their young age and inexperience with relationships. This inexperience with relationships can lead to uncertainty of what to expect from a healthy relationship. If the victims of IPV do not understand healthy barriers within a relationship, the likelihood of any IPV instances will be under-reported. In many cases young university students have moved away from home for the first time, severing support systems such as parents and peers. When a post-secondary student is a victim of IPV there can be devastating long lasting side-effects. Unwanted pregnancies, sexually transmitted infections/diseases, physical injury, emotional and psychological trauma and feelings of shame all hinder a student’s ability to productively attend university.

As stated by Carr; “Perpetrators of IPV may lack some social skills, such as communication skills, particularly on the context of problematic situations with their intimate partners” (2005). Individuals who commit IPV are also susceptible to lower self-esteem and are typically more aggressive. The consumption of alcohol also increases the risk of IPV. When alcohol is consumed so is the tendency for serious injury occur.

Murder and Post-Secondary Campuses

Like any community, post-secondary institutes are susceptible to murder. In July of 2012, a deadly shooting took place at the University of Alberta. Three men were killed and a fourth critically injured in an attempted armored truck robbery. Although no university students were injured, the Hub Mall, which is located on the U of A campus, was locked down.  The case of Maple Batalia, “ …19, was an aspiring actor and model who planned to be a doctor when she was shot after a late-night study session on Sept. 28, 2011 at Simon Fraser University’s Surrey campus” (Fong, 2012). Shortly after the murder the RCMP apprehended former boyfriend of Batalia and charged him with first degree murder. A second man was arrested and charged with manslaughter, using a fire arm and being an accessory after the fact. Batalia had relocated from India to study abroad in Canada. Her family remained in India. In honour of Batalia, her parents have since set up a scholarship in her name. Questions have circulated surrounding her tragic death. Was Batalia experiencing IPV prior to her death? If she was, why didn’t she seek aid from social resources and campus programs? Was her death preventable?

Post-Secondary Safety Measures: Is There Room for Improvement?

Universities and colleges all have their own specific protocols and safety measures. However, most campuses typically have “assembly/emergency stations” that are located throughout the campus. Usually bright blue in colour, these “pole like” structures are equipped with buttons that immediately connect the individual to campus security and send out the location of the assembly/emergency station. Other security measures often seen on campuses are security personal, extensive lighting and safety posters. Most university and college websites contain materials that outline violence, safety protocols and actions to take in case of an emergency or natural disaster.

Yes, assembly/emergency stations are abundant on campuses, however there should be more. An individual who is incapacitated to whatever extreme would be hard-pressed to locate an assembly station when they are in the presence of imamate danger. If assembly stations are not easily accessible they will not be used. The response time of security personal should also be questioned.

Ample lighting reduces crime and improves a sense of safety in students, staff and faculty. When students are forced to maneuver dark paths and alley ways the risk for injury is increased, so is the risk for a personal attack. Increased lighting is a simple, relatively cheap precautionary measure that can aid the safety for all individuals on campus.

Safety training should be mandatory. To better combat campus crime all individuals who use a campus should be trained in campus safety. A simple short seminar could improve one’s awareness and provide a sense of empowerment and safety; as well as educate students on where to find resources and who to contact if violence or crime did occur. A single page on a post-secondary website is insufficient. To actively protect students, students need to be actively trained and educated.

Finally the presence of security personal should be increased. This would work as an active deterrence and would greatly reduce campus crime. Also, statistics regarding campus crime and violence should have to be legally published in Canada, and accessible to the general public. Without proper statistics it becomes increasingly difficult to raise capital to enforce extra safety measures. If and when a crime occurs on campus, students, faculty and staff should be notified immediately. The fact that security and police may want to avoid “mass panic” is not a reasonable explanation. If students are not informed of a particular incident they cannot make the necessary changes to their own personal habits and routines or seek out support services. Universities and colleges are a place of knowledge and continued learning. In order for students to productively learn in this environment there safety should and always be considered a top priority. Students pay considerable amounts of money for tuition and student union fees. A significant percentage of that money should be publicly allocated to enhance protective measures to ensure the well-being of our futures leaders.

– River


Bains, C. (2013, October 22). Sixth sex attack rocks UBC as campus searches for assailant. National Post. Retrieved from http://news.nationalpost.com/2013/10/22/rcmps-major-crimes-unit-takes-over-university-assaults-case-after-third-violent-attack-at-ubc/

Crawford, T. (2013, October 19) Third Women in as Many Weeks Sexually Assulted at UBC. Vancouver Sun. http://www.vancouversun.com/Another+women+sexually+assualted+third+attack+many+weeks/9057836/story.html

DuPlessis D.R.R. (1993). Campus Crime: University Liable For Failure to Protect Its Students. Canadian Association of College & University Student Services. 2, 1-8.

Fong, P. (2012, December 2). Maple Batalia murder: Former boyfriend and ‘associate’ arrested in slaying of B.C. student. Western Canada. Retrieved from http://www.thestar.com/news/canada/2012/12/02/maple_batalia_murder_former_boyfriend_and_associate_arrested_in_slaying_of_bc_student.html

Hodge, S., and Canter, D. (1998). Victims and Perpetrators of Male Sexual Assault. Journal of Interpersonal Violence, 13, 222-240.

Lauren .F Lichty, Rebecca Campbell and Jayne .Schuiteman. (2008) Developing a University-Wide Institutional Response to

Sexual Assault and Relationship Violence. Journal of Prevention & Intervention in the Community, 36, 1-2.

Sexual assault. (n.d) Defining sexual assault. Retrieved from

Straus, Murray A. (2004). Prevalence of Violence Against Dating Partners by Male and Female University Students Worldwide. Violence Against Women, 10, 790-811.


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