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Western University students plan walkout amid allegations that young women were sexually assaulted

Last Updated Sep 15, 2021 at 2:14 pm EDT

Western University in London, Ont. THE CANADIAN PRESS IMAGES/Mark Spowart

London Police updated its investigation into multiple reports of sexual assault and violence at Western University, revealing on Tuesday that they are aware of allegations made on social media regarding 30 women. Nobody has come forward to the police with a complaint on these allegations so far.

The school confirmed Monday it has received four formal complaints of sexual violence from students over the past week and was also looking into additional allegations made on social media over the weekend.

That came as the university confirmed that a student, 18-year-old Gabriel Neil, died after being assaulted near campus. Police said Neil was found seriously injured in the early hours of Saturday morning and died the next day.

A 21-year old, Aliyan Ahmed, has been charged with manslaughter. Western U said the person charged was not a student.

This led to police initiating an investigation into the matter, saying they were aware of “information circulating on social media pertaining to a number of sexual assaults” alleged to have occurred at Medway-Sydenham Hall over the weekend.

Investigators said Tuesday officers had not received any official reports of drugging or sexual assault occurring in Sydenham Hall over the weekend or in recent days.

“Given the seriousness of the allegations raised in relation to incidents occurring at Medway-Sydenham Hall, the London Police Service has opened an investigation, and we will work collaboratively with Western University to identify and support any victims and ensure a thorough investigation is conducted,” a spokesperson for London Police said in a release.

“Two reports were received in the week prior pertaining to allegations of sexual assault occurring at other locations on campus. These incidents remain under investigation, and part of that investigation will include examining possible linkages to any unreported incidents.”

In response to Premier Doug Ford’s comment, Western University says the school is working closely with London Police in investigating the allegations.

“At this time, Western and LPS have received very little information related to the social media reports, and we’re asking anyone with more details to please come forward,” Western University wrote on Twitter.

“Unconnected to what we’re seeing on social media, Western has received four formal complaints of sexual violence from students over the past week.”

Police said Tuesday that one of the three complaints/sexual assault reports they received involved two victims, which is why there are currently three investigations and not four.

One male student was arrested in connection to those assaults but is no longer in police custody. No charges have been laid. Investigators say local media indicated four people had been arrested in their investigation, but they stressed that it is inaccurate.

A statement from Chris Alleyne, associate vice-president of housing and ancillary services, notes that the school will not tolerate sexual violence.

Alleyne says that while an investigation is underway, those facing complaints are “sanctioned, which can include removal from campus.” The school has not received any formal complaints from alleged victims.

“These cases do not appear to be connected to each other or to what we’re seeing on social media.”

Walkout planned for Friday afternoon

Students at Western University are planning to walk out of classes on Friday to protest a “culture of misogyny” on campus, and what they call a failure by the school to address it, an organizer said Wednesday.

Organizer Hayden Van Neck, a third-year psychology student, said heavy drinking, excessive partying and aggressive behaviour towards women are campus-wide issues that have been present during her entire time at the university.

“There is this culture of misogyny, and homophobia, that are the underlying issues on campus that allow events like this to happen,” Van Neck said in an interview.

“There’s just been a lot of violence in the last week, and I think we need some actual change to prevent this from happening in the future.”

She and about 20 other students have organized the walkout, which will see several sexual assault survivors speak to students as they leave their classes at noon on Friday.

“The response has been overwhelming,” she said of student reaction to the planned event.

The group planning the walkout has several calls to action, including asking the school to immediately prepare and implement “cohesive and mandatory gender-based and sexual violence education training modules.”

The students are also asking the school to clarify the process for sexual violence reporting, which Van Neck has said is confusing.

The group is also asking the provincial Ministry of Colleges and Universities to investigate the school’s gender-based violence policies, claiming they “fail to protect students.”

Western did not immediately respond to the request for comment on the walkout or the group’s calls.

On Instagram, students say they’ve decided they needed to take a stand against the violence happening on campus due to the recent events.

There’s also a change.org petition which calls on the ministry of colleges and universities to conduct a full formal investigation into Western University. As of Wednesday morning, there are more than 3,300 signatures.

Shelter offering support to Western students as school grapples with allegations

A gender-based violence shelter is setting up a safe space to support students on Western University’s campus in the wake of multiple sexual assault allegations.

AnnaLise Trudell, manager of education, training and research at Anova, a local shelter, said counsellors would be on campus Wednesday, Thursday and Friday night to provide drop-in support to students who returned last week.

“Students need a safe space right now,” Trudell said.

“They’ll be able to come and discuss issues in a group space, and our counsellors will be there off to the side in individual private spaces to do more of that sort of clinical counselling.”

Western’s orientation week, which wrapped over the weekend, saw many allegations come to light.

The university said it removed students from residence and was “facilitating arrest” connected to the four official complaints but gave no further details on those measures.

Large student parties off campus caught local politicians and police ire for violating the province’s social gathering laws.

Western’s student council said Neil was a first-year health science student.

“We know this tragedy will be difficult to process given how challenging the past few days have been for our student community,” the University Students’ Council said in a statement Tuesday.

“Please take care of yourselves and each other. We all deserve to feel safe on campus, and we know our community does not right now.”

Trudell said Anova had seen a spike in calls to its sexual assault and gender-based violence crisis line in recent days, as well as a slew of private messages on social media.

She said orientation week is a dangerous time for young women at campuses across the country.

“We see an increase in calls to crisis lines in terms of sexual assault centres across the country both during and after this week, as well as requests for counselling support,” Trudell said.

According to the Student Voices on Sexual Violence, a survey of post-secondary students across the province, one in three Western students surveyed indicated they were sexually assaulted in the previous 12 months. More than 8,000 Western students responded to the survey.

“That was on the high end,” Trudell said. “But all campuses have sexual assault numbers that are uncomfortably high.”

Western University’s President, Alan Shepard, also issued a statement calling the reports “disturbing.”

“Let me be very clear: Sexual violence will never be tolerated on our campus,” Shepard said. “… If you or someone you know has been impacted by sexual violence, we have survivor-focused supports in place, including a dedicated gender-based violence and survivor support case manager. Survivors have support options, including disclosure, filing a complaint and/or requesting support. In emergency situations, Western’s Special Constable Service and St. Joseph’s Health Care Regional Sexual Assault Program are available 24/7.”

Shepard says the allegations have resulted “in heightened concern for safety on campus.”

“Please be assured this case is being thoroughly investigated by LPS, and a suspect from the London community is in custody,” he said.

“We are all experiencing a difficult start to the school year – and I am certain no one feels this more deeply than our students. We are here for you.”


With files from Liam Casey of The Canadian Press