Humber College has seen a recent spike in reporting of alleged sexual assaults and police aren’t always called by security to handle the situation.
According to Humber’s department of public safety, it mostly depends on the severity of the incident and whether the victim wants authorities involved.
It’s a contentious issue amongst professionals who deal with sexual assaults.
At North campus, there was one sexual assault from 2008-2010, then a spike to seven sexual assaults in a fraction of the time, from January 2010-October 2011, safety department statistics show.
At Lakeshore campus, there were no sexual assaults from 2008-2010, but there have been four from January 2010-October 2011.
The safety department said the meaning of sexual assault ranges from groping to rape.
Liz Sokol, a counsellor at Humber, said these statistics still don’t reflect the number of students she sees day-to-day at her North campus office for sexual assault.
“At any given time, I can guarantee you that each of us (six to seven counselors) are at least seeing one student for sexual assault,” she said, noting many assaults still go unreported.
Pervez Ditta, Humber’s director of public safety, agrees and attributes the spike in security reports
to victims feeling more empowered to come forward.
He said when deciding to call police, security officers must determine if the victim wants authorities
contacted and if there’s any further risk to those on campus while assessing the “mindset” of those
involved and the severity of the alleged assault.
“Security officers can normally calm down the situation just by talking to the individuals,” he said,
noting in these situations most people are known to each other as well as the college.
Ditta said if both students are present and the victim doesn’t want police contacted, security officers
would file an internal report. But if the alleged perpetrator were on the loose or not known to the college,
they’d call police.
Humber’s security officers are employed by Primary Response Inc. under an estimated $2.5-million contract
with Humber that’s currently eating half of its public safety department’s annual budget.
This contract is up for a one-year renewal in 2012, which would make it Primary’s seventh year on campus.
Ditta said on pub nights, when there’s a heightened risk of incidents, the college also hires four
police officers for four hours, at a cost of roughly $1,200 per night.
“What we don’t want is heavy handedness with our students,” said Ditta. “Some cases may be criminal,
but still not end up being dealt with by police.”
Michael Kopinak, assistant director of public safety, said if a security officer contacts him about an incident and the victim doesn’t want police involved, he may make the call anyway.
He said in a recent incident a female student at Lakeshore campus was allegedly groped by a male student and didn’t want police involved, but he thought it necessary and arranged a private meeting.
“Two male cops showed up, went right up to her room (in residence) – she didn’t want police there and it became a big public spectacle.”
He said he would have preferred a female officer and a private meeting in an office. “I wish I hadn’t called police then,” he said.
Victor Kwong, media relations officer with Toronto Police, said available officers are dispatched when called, whether female or male.
“We would send whoever’s available first, and then we’d assess the situation after that,” he said, adding “it’s not our position to say whether they (security) should call (police) or not.”
He said it’s the victim’s right to not involve police and though security officers are right to respect that, police still can be called.
“We can be there to enforce laws or provide victim services,” he said, noting the latter is something that shouldn’t be left to security officers.
Stacey Nichols, a criminal defence lawyer who specializes in sexual assault cases with Toronto firm Neuberger
Rose, suggested regardless of the incident’s severity and the victim’s wishes, security officers have a duty
to call police.
“No one’s under any obligation to give a statement to police, but security still has the option of calling,” she said.
“I would think in the interest of keeping the campus safe, any type of incident should be investigated and they’re not
going to be investigated unless the police are called.”
But Sokol, the counsellor, said it’s hard enough for victims to inform and speak with security, let alone
initiate an “intrusive” police investigation.
“When victims report to police, they lose power and control of the process,” she said, something that’s not
too enticing because they just had all control stripped away.
Sokol said calling police without the victim’s consent would be “even worse,” though she’d expected it to be
mandatory for security officers to call police.
“You’re saying (to the victim) you don’t get to decide your fate and again taking away power (from them),” she said,
adding it’s “excellent” security officers have the discretion to respect the victim’s wishes.
Originally published in the Humber Et Cetera.